Online edition of Shunpiking
Thursday, Jan 01, 2004
From our archives

Gulf of St. Lawrence

Fishers, Mi’kmaq, environmentalists challenge petroleum board, leases


By Tony Seed

Shunpiking, Atlantic Canada Today, February-March, 2000, Vol. 5, No. 32

Since 1977 the vast area covered by Canada’s 200-mile limit -- an area amounting to one-third the land mass of Canada -- has been parcelled out by a closed door executive process of the federal government to fisheries corporations, foreign fleets and multinational oil and gas interests. Now this process is being challenged again, this time from western Cape Breton and the Northumberland Strait.

A mass petition asking parliament to direct the government to revoke a 600,000-acre permit off the western coast of Cape Breton and stop petroleum exploration leases from being issued until spawning, nursery and other sensitive area are identified was tabled in the House of Commons on February 10. The first thousand signatures of the several thousand signature petition was tabled by Peter Stoffer, NDP MLA. It also demanded that parliament review current legislation relating to the Canada/Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board and the National Energy Board and "to investigate the powers and undemocratic actions of these two un-elected federal agencies."

Environmentalists, fishermen and Mi’kmaq say the petroleum lease crosses vital migratory routes for southern Gulf groundfish, pelagic and salmon stocks and covers sensitive lobster and herring spawning areas.

"It is in a fragile ecosystem abundant with whales and dolphins with winter ice cover and waters as shallow as 60 feet in places," said Elizabeth May, Sierra Club.

There are some 10,000 fishers in the Southern Gulf and some 20,000 people employed including plant workers and other spin-off industries.

Percy Hayne, president of the Gulf NS Fleet Planning Board, said the government’s insensitivity towards the pressures on the east coast fishery knows no limits.

"With the recent Supreme Court Marshall Decision, native and non-native fishers are working hard to peacefully and successfully implement the Marshall Decision. The federal government should at the very least, support our efforts to implement the Marshall Decision, rather than making matters worse by allowing petroleum permits in our spawning grounds," he said.

What has emerged is a key question: why the executive power does not represent human beings? Are decisions being made by executive power on behalf of oil and gas interests? Or is it the gas and oil interests operating through executive power?

Either way, Mary Gorman, a member of Save Our Seas/Shores Coalition which is collecting the signatures, quickly gets to the point about the petroleum board’s alleged neutrality: "We want them investigated."

Kerry Prosper of the Afton Band said: "Mi’kmaq, Maliseet and Passamaquoddy chiefs want this exploration stopped.

"We have waited for centuries to be finally given legal access to the east coast fishery. Now we are seriously questioning what quality of fishery we are being given access to.

"If the petroleum industry is allowed to take over our seabeds, what will be left for future generations?"

Good point, too. But indeed, what has already been left for this generation?

Perhaps people themselves should investigate these boards and parliaments, rather than leaving it up to someone else.