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Dear Ryan: Amendments to the Fisheries Act

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Ryan Leef
Member of Parliament, Yukon
Open Letter #13
May, 2012

Dear Ryan,

Recently we watched a biography of Pete Seeger. We were aware of Seeger's importance to folk song traditions and his social activism. But we were surprised to learn about his contributions towards the clean-up of the Hudson River.

The Hudson was once so polluted that it was declared a dead river -- therefore an acceptable place to dump untreated sewage and industrial waste.

In 1966, Pete Seeger co-founded the environmental organization Hudson River Sloop Clearwater. The Clearwater still sails the Hudson River providing environmental education to school children. The Great Hudson River Revival, an affiliated festival, still raises funds for environmental research and clean-up of the Hudson River. In 2011, Phase II of the Hudson River clean-up began: dredging the PCBs from the river bottom.

This brings me to the subject of the 13th letter, how changes to the Fisheries Act will adversely affect water quality in Canada and Yukon.

You sit on the Standing Committee for Fisheries and Oceans, Ryan. Recently you defended the amendments to the Fisheries Act, saying, "The goal is to stop Ma and Pa operations from having to re-route a tailings pond ... to protect one fish." You said that the government will be careful to not "open up Pandora's box to big industry either." Sadly, recent history does not support this claim.

The proposed amendments to the Fisheries Act, buried in the omnibus budget Bill C-38 along with other poison pills aimed at gutting environmental protection, de-valuing the importance of water and wet land habitats, leaving them vulnerable to the whims of industry.

Sandy Pond, a healthy trout-filled lake in Newfoundland, is scheduled to become a tailings dump for Vale Inco. The planned destruction of this and 13 other healthy lakes is due to a legislative flaw in Schedule 2 of the Fisheries Act that no previous government had any interest in exploiting. If this could happen before the amendments to the Fisheries Act, how likely is it that there won't be worse abuses to come?

Section 34 of the ominous budget bill replaces the phrase "fish habitat protection" with "fisheries protection." The phrase "fish habitat" is to be replaced with "fish that are part of a commercial, recreational or aboriginal fishery, or fish that support such a fishery." No longer will it be a crime to obstruct streams and waterways under the Fisheries Act. It is as though commercially profitable fish live isolated from the ecosystems that sustain them.

What kind of harm will we see in Yukon waterways and wetlands? How will this worsen the carnage planned for the Peel River Watershed? Unfortunately, we won't know the details until it is too late because the government is cutting funding for Environment Effects Monitoring which studies effluent discharge.

The Faro Mine is an example of what happens when environmental protection is streamlined. Future generations are left with the cost of clean-up. And now that water quality is no longer valued, will the expensive Faro toxic abatement project be cut? Will we knowingly poison the Pelly River?

Healthy societies depend on healthy environments.

Pete Seeger was black-listed during the McCarthy era. He was dragged before the House of un-American activities where he refused to implicate other people or co-operate. He said, "I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this." Unrepentant, Seeger was banned from television and radio for over a decade, causing family hardship. Nevertheless, he proved to be an effective agent for positive change.

The Conservative Government is trying on some McCarthy-era tactics of its own. Environmentalists are being called money launderers, radicals, killers of Canadian families and other ludicrous names. Scientists are muzzled. Civil servants and Conservative MPs are tightly controlled. Critics are threatened.

Ryan, your predicament is precarious. If you had refused to follow instructions while on the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans there would have been a price to pay. It is very hard to speak from the heart when you are forced to speak from someone else's script. It takes a giant like Pete Seeger to swim against the current.

May your time in Ottawa be constructive and may you walk on the high road.

Respectfully yours,
Linda Leon

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