The House of Commons on Monday voted to send government bills overhauling the Fisheries Act and scrapping Harper-era reforms to a northern regulator to the Senate for final approval.
MPs voted in favour of a message moved by the governing Liberals responding to changes made by the Senate to Bill C-68, which reworks the long-standing Fisheries Act.
The Senate must now vote whether to accept the message — which would lead to the bill passing into law — or insist on the changes it made.
In the message, the Liberals say they are rejecting Senate amendments that would change the definition of fish habitat in the bill and expand an offset credit program to outside groups, while proposing relatively minor language tweaks to two other amendments.
Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said last week the government would not accept an amendment from Sen. Rose-May Poirier eliminating “water frequented by fish” from the definition of fish habitat in the act because it goes “against the objective of the bill.” The inclusion of the term in the originally worded definition, he said, “increases the scope for the application of the fish habitat protection provisions.”
He also said the Liberals are rejecting a Senate change permitting third party habitat banking — a compensation tool designed to offset the impact on the environment and wildlife caused by human activity.
Expanding fish habitat banking to third parties, as detailed in the Senate amendments, would allow any organization to earn credits through restoration and conservation efforts which they could then sell to developers or other project proponents. Some senators also supported allowing project developers to pay an upfront fee instead of investing in offsetting projects, with the funds to be directed to habitat restoration.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has been encouraging use of habitat banking since 2013 and C-68 would “enshrine this policy approach into law,” while offering new incentives to use the banking credits to offset impacts on fish and fish habitat, according to Wilkinson.
However, he said the government believes habitat banking credits must benefit the specific fish populations and areas affected by the project they were designed to offset, adding that habitat protection and restoration should be prioritized especially so in cases where “aquatic species at risk are present.”
BACKGROUNDER: Bill C-88 passes through committee with no amendments
MPs on Monday also voted to pass Bill C-88 at third reading. The legislation, introduced in the House last fall, repeals the restructuring of the regional panels of the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board introduced by the former Conservative government in 2014 but halted by an injunction from the Northwest Territories Supreme Court.
It also gives the federal cabinet the power to prohibit certain oil and gas work in Arctic offshore areas if deemed to be in the national interest and freezes the terms of license holders in those areas during the Trudeau government’s ongoing moratorium on oil and gas activity in the Beaufort Sea, located off the northern coast of the Northwest Territories.
The ban is subject to review every five years.
Bill C-88 was passed without amendments by the Liberal-majority House Indigenous and Northern affairs committee late last month. It now moves to the Senate, which must move fast to pass the bill before it rises for the summer at the end of the month. The House is scheduled to rise at the end of this week.
Neither chamber is expected to resume before the writs are issued for this fall’s election. All legislation that hasn’t received Royal Assent before then is scrapped.