Department of Biological Sciences

Joel Harding: Sad irony in snakehead drama

June 15, 2012

Guest post by Joel Harding, a PhD student in SFU's Department of Biological Sciences. Originally printed in the Burnaby Now.

The recent media buzz and public obsession surrounding the rogue snakehead fish in Burnaby’s Central Park pond brought to light a larger irony.

As Ministry of Environment personnel conducted their fish hunt with a crowd of deeply concerned onlookers, there was a much more imminent threat to our aquatic ecosystems that loomed overhead.

Bill C-38 (see Open Parliament website), bursting with non-budgetary content, epitomizes the Conservative government’s mandate to undermine and eliminate Canada’s environmental legislation. It has been met with some concern and opposition from a full spectrum of Canadians who transcend political stripe.

Under this government, aquatic habitats across our nation, much more pristine than the Central Park pond, could soon lose a lion’s share of their protection and safeguards as a result of unsound and undemocratic governance. The gutting of the Fisheries Act and elimination of protective measures for fish and their habitats, the elimination of the Environmental Assessment Act to side-step long held assurances on habitat mitigation and regulating development adjacent to our waters, the closures and deep cuts targeting renowned research facilities and government monitoring programs essential to both ecosystem and human health, to name just a few.

This would result in increased threats to our rich array of habitats and species, enabling more flexibility to pollute, drain, dam, fill and develop. This is an ideologically driven attack on the very things we all felt were threatened by this “frankenfish”.

Now to be fair, snakehead fish are resilient and versatile predators and could pose a significant threat. It has adapted to other parts of the continent so I was very relieved when it was caught. But I also couldn’t help feel an unexpected sadness. That if we all responded to Bill C-38, with the same energy and zeal as we did about this fish, we could force this Conservative government to deconstruct the more than 60 legislative changes in this bill and let Parliament review it properly.

If Bill C-38 was covered in the media with half as much intensity as this fish, we could be swaying the decisions of Tory MPs to not let this bill pass in its current form. And if the Provincial Government recognized the immense threats Bill C-38 poses to our coastline and took a stand in the same unequivocal way that it promptly declared a ban on live imports of snakehead fish, we could hold this Conservative government accountable.

Canada’s environment is facing a much larger threat than the snakehead fish — we have a federal government who is willing to undermine democratic process, sacrifice our natural heritage and ecosystems, and rid themselves of their responsibility to protect our environment, and ultimately us. They are hollowing out foundational Canadian legislation to clear a path for big business and an unsustainable economy.

Unless we, the citizenry, start to care more and do more, then we are truly headed in the wrong direction, all of us.

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