Friday, March 16, 2018

Skeena MLA Ross seeks government overview on Fish Farm issues

The themes of Aquaculture, UNDRIP and consultation all were
part of a thirty minute question and answer session between
Skeena MLA Ellis Ross and Cabinet Minister Doug Donaldson on Wednesday

While the commercial wild salmon fishery has been getting a fairly expansive review from North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice and Prince Rupert City Council in recent weeks, Skeena MLA Ellis Ross has been seeking some guidance on the how the provincial government plans to address themes related to the aquaculture industry.

Wednesday, Mr. Ross made use of his time in the Legislature to put some focus on themes related to fish farming in British Columbia.

In a wide ranging, thirty minute exchange with Minister Doug Donaldson, Ross explored a range of questions related to provincial policy on the aquaculture industry.

Ross was seeking some answers related the aspect of companies wishing to renew their tenure for fish farms, with the Minister offering up a short outline of what the process is.

The type of criteria that the statutory decision–maker considers when it comes to a decision about renewing or replacing or not replacing a tenure under the Land Act would be things like environmental impacts of the anchoring, related to the fish farm; the past performance of the proponent when it comes to issues under the jurisdiction of the statutory decision–maker under the Land Act, such as whether docks have been kept up to standard and other maintenance issues that could have an adverse environmental impact; and First Nations consultation. Those are some of the factors that would go into a decision around replacing or not replacing a tenure under the Land Act.

With that overview provided, the Skeena MLA then addressed a few of the points that had been listed by the Minister, directing some of his commentary on past practices and First Nations consultation.

What I'm really trying to get at is at the heart of the controversy for the fish farms up in the north end of Vancouver Island. As far as I can understand it, the standards have been met in terms of past practices as well as past performance, and in other respects as well, including environmental impacts regarding anchoring.

I'm assuming, as well, that these fish farms have actually been compliant in terms of the conditions you're talking about — especially, say, something like rental payments. The only outstanding issue I can see that may be in question is First Nations consultation. Am I kind of in the same ballpark as the ministry?

From that point, Mr. Ross then turned his attention towards how the issue of the pending adoption of the United Nations Declaration of Rights for Indigenous People will be reflected in fish farm policy.

I'm looking for a specific conversation in relation to the minister's responsibilities in terms of renewing the tenure, because it is in the mandate letter to your ministry. [1605] But if it's just an operational consultation to First Nations, if I'm hearing that correctly, that poses problems as well. It is probably more specific if it was under existing rights and title case law. But this is my issue with UNDRIP in general: there is no specificity to it. There is no definition. I've heard from this government that it's either a human rights document, a blueprint for success — and I can't remember what the other…. But really, no definition yet. 

 Just to be clear, the way I think about this is it creates a lot of uncertainty not only for the government and not only for the fish farm operator itself but also for First Nations. Ultimately, I don't want to see First Nations end up in court trying to define UNDRIP, when we've spend the last 35 years in court trying to define, with great success, section 35 of the constitution. If it's an operational consultation only, under UNDRIP, do the First Nations in question — those that support fish farms as well as those First Nations that oppose fish farms — understand that this will only be a consultation on the operational side of things, in regards to the renewal of tenures of fish farms?

Doug Donaldson the Minister of Forests, Lands,
Natural Resource  Operations and Rural Development, was
the Governments point man on discussions on aquaculture this week

As part of the half hour of discussion on salmon farm issues, Mr. Ross and Mr. Donaldson reviewed a  number of areas both related to the UNDRIP resolution and further engagement on the theme between First Nations, farm proponents and the government.

Minister Donaldson also noted that the issue was one which the Skeena MLA may wist to explore further with the Attorney General who could provide further guidance on the legal aspects of any consultation process related to the fish farm tenures.

The full exchange can be examined from the Legislature Hansard Archive here starting at the 15:50 point.

The Video of the half hour discussion is also available through the Legislatures Video archive, the conversation gets underway at the 3:50 PM mark of the proceedings.

For more items of note related to the work of the Skeena MLA see our archive page here.

A wider overview of events in Victoria can be found from our political blog D'Arcy McGee

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