Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has formally directed new Fisheries Minister Hunter Tootoo
to reopen the closed Kitsilano Coast Guard base that had become a flashpoint for local criticism of the Harper government.
The Kitsilano base was closed in 2013 – vessels and staff were shifted to Richmond – but pressure from B.C. politicians to reopen it intensified after a slow response earlier this year to a spill of fuel oil from a freighter in English Bay.
Trudeau released his mandate letters outlining the priorities for each new federal cabinet minister Friday.
Those marching orders spell out various reforms to Conservative policies, as well as repeals or amendments to contentious legislation like Bill C-51 and the Fair Elections Act.
Details in the mandates are sparse, however, and for the most part they contain no specific deadlines.
The Liberal promise of admitting 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the year has shifted to “in the coming months.”
Bolstered environmental protections are pledged, in line with Liberal campaign promises.
Tootoo is to “act on recommendations of the Cohen Commission on restoring sockeye salmon stocks in the Fraser River” and review changes to fishery legislation to “restore lost protections and incorporate modern safeguards.”
He’s also supposed to “use scientific evidence and the precautionary principle, and take into account climate change, when making decisions affecting fish stocks and ecosystem management.”
Natural Resource Minister James Carr gets no specific instructions related to the Northern Gateway or Trans Mountain pipeline proposals.
But Trudeau directs him to modernize the National Energy Board and to immediately review and reform environmental assessment processes to regain public trust.
Northern Gateway is expected to be dead under the Trudeau Liberals and one letter orders the formalization of a moratorium on crude oil tanker traffic off B.C.’s north coast.
Health Minister Jane Philpott’s priorities from the PM include introducing plain packaging requirements for cigarettes and to work with other ministers toward the legalization and regulation of marijuana.
On electoral reform, the minister for democratic institutions is to convene a special committee to consult on options that include preferential ballots, proportional representation, mandatory voting and online voting.
The mandate letters are peppered with references to the need for science-based decisions.
Each minister is also told of the need for meaningful engagement with the Opposition, of constructive dialogue with Canadians and stakeholders including business and labour, and with journalists.
Federal scientists have this month been advised they can speak freely with the media about their research without being vetted and often censored by government communications staff.
Other changes that have already emerged since the Liberal majority election win on Oct. 19 include a halt by Canada Post on its rollout of community mail boxes.
The Cohen inquiry in response to the 2009 collapse of the Fraser sockeye run recommended the federal government alter DFO’s role on aquaculture so it is not simultaneously promoting and regulating salmon farms.
It also recommended salmon farms along the Johnstone Strait migration route be shut down by 2020 unless it can be scientifically proven that the risk to wild salmon from aquaculture is minimal.
Craig Orr, conservation adviser for Watershed Watch Salmon Society, said he wants to see what the Liberals actually deliver, but added hopes are high.
“Many of us feel like we’ve been in a deep dark trench for the last 10 years on environmental protection.”