Rejection of funding agreement leaves future uncertain for B.C. coastal communities
Ottawa — The federal government has torn up a funding agreement that had brought together a diverse cross-section of society, including First Nations, the Province of British Columbia, commercial fishing operators, shipping interests, tourism operators, local governments, environmentalists and the oil and gas sector. These groups came together to design a collaborative ocean management plan for Canada's Pacific North Coast, an area larger than Portugal.
"After five years of negotiations and meetings, Canada was finally working toward a comprehensive plan for a large ocean area, rather than a hodge-podge of regulations and fragmented management and enforcement," says Bill Wareham, Senior Policy Analyst for the David Suzuki Foundation. "Now we're grinding into reverse with an approach that has failed us repeatedly in the past. This does not bode well for the communities of coastal British Columbia that depend on a healthy ocean."
After consultation with a broad range of stakeholders, Canada, B.C. and First Nations agreed to pursue a public-private funding model for the Pacific North Coast Integrated Management Area (PNCIMA) initiative. The Moore Foundation — which has a long track record working with US state governments in multi-use ocean planning — offered to support the process. This was approved by the federal government in January 2011 after extensive review by government lawyers.
"This leaves us with an empty process that will fail to protect the ocean and the coastal economy," says Kim Wright, Marine Planning and Protected Areas Manager for the Living Oceans Society. "It appears to be yet another knee-jerk reaction from the Prime Minister's Office against fair and collaborative decision-making. They have ignored advice from the federal government's top scientists and policy-makers, and are instead bowing to pressure from influential lobbyists from the shipping sector."
The marine transportation sector have repeatedly voiced their concerns this process would come in the way of their interests in moving oil from the Alberta tar sands to Asia. Pressure from big oil and international shipping has undermined this process, with Stephen Harper putting their interests before those of the coastal residents of British Columbia.
"All over the world, governments, businesses, NGOs and communities are moving towards smart, multi-use ocean planning as the best way to protect the health of our oceans and our ocean economies," said Darcy Dobell, WWF-Canada's Pacific Region Vice-President. "This was a great opportunity for Canada to show strong leadership in good ocean management. We're very disappointed to see the federal government walk away from the process."