Photo: Defend our coast: unity, diversity and democracy.

Over 4,000 people supported the Defend Our Coast rally at B.C.'s provincial legislature on Monday, October 22. (Credit: Zack Embree)

By Bill Wareham, Senior Marine Conservation Specialist

The October 22 Defend Our Coast rally in Victoria sent a vivid message to politicians that Canadians care deeply about their coastal waters. The estimated 4,000 people who attended represented a microcosm of the demographic and social diversity of Canada. Teachers, tour operators, religious groups, grandparents, unions (some of whom have members working in the tar sands), First Nations, businesspeople, fishermen and many, many other groups stood united. The inspiring speeches touched on democracy, nature, trade and development — all without conflict or violence.

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A deep love of nature was a key uniting element shared by the active crowd, as well as the fear of the terrible consequences of an oil spill. But their concerns go deeper than stopping pipelines and oil tankers. As a longtime promoter of healthy oceans in Canada, I was moved by the sight of thousands of regular folks taking time out of their busy lives to show their support for B.C.'s coastal environment. It was obvious that more must be done to honour the will of the people.

While governments have a democratic responsibility to listen to the concerns expressed at yesterday's rally, they have moral and scientific responsibilities as well. Our government leaders need to get serious about protecting our invaluable ocean ecosystems from the devastating effects of industrial fishing, shipping, pollution and climate change. Stopping the immediate and clear threat posed by the pipelines and increased tanker traffic is important. We also need a big-picture view. If we want to have healthy oceans in the long term, we need a broad spectrum of management — from monitoring and enforcement of commercial activity to formally designated marine protected areas.

Instead of making good long-term decisions, it appears that Canada is making some dangerous ones. The proposed pipeline projects directly link our coastline with the Alberta tar sands, which in turn links to a pending 31-year trade deal with China. The federal government plans to implement the China-Canada Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement on October 31.

This deal is no deal for Canada: it allows China to sue Canada in a closed-door court and offers China "full protection and security from public opposition." Are we signing over our democratic rights here? This deal touches on labour, political rights and environmental regulations. What more could we be giving away? And this no-deal deal is scheduled to last a generation; by the time it expires, most young parents will have become grandparents, and kindergarten-aged children will have children of their own.

As we try to stop the senseless introduction of more oil tankers to our coastline, the David Suzuki Foundation will continue to work on our goal of ensuring healthy oceans: having sustainable fisheries and aquaculture practices through sustainable seafood programs like SeaChoice; marine-use planning and establishment of formally designated marine protected areas; conservation and recovery plans for threatened and endangered species; and pollution-reduction strategies associated with shipping, oil and gas development, cruise ships, aquaculture and forestry.

There's much to do. But our oceans are worth the effort, and I am thrilled to see the public is on board

Make sure you check out our Best Pacific Ocean Stories Ever series.

October 23, 2012

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