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Opposition members say aquaculture discussion stifled

In what opposition members on the Standing Committee on Resources say was an effort to stifle true debate and discussion about concerns which have arisen recently in the province, NDP committee chair Sid Prest, the Eastern Shore MLA, shut down questions about aquaculture at the committee meeting on Thursday. The committee convened to hear testimony from senior officials of the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture’s about the coastal strategy being developed by the department.

Paul LaFleche, deputy minister Greg Roach, associate deputy minister, Linda MacDonald, executive director and Justin Huston, the coastal zone co-coordinator for the department were scheduled witnesses. One MLA said it appeared that Huston’s testimony to the Committee was being "muzzled" by the department brass at the meeting. "It looked to me, said the MLA, "that they were really directing his testimony."

Shutting down debate

“The NDP is shutting down debate around aquaculture and not fulfilling their responsibility to be accountable to Nova Scotians,” said Inverness PC MLA MacMaster.  “If a committee meeting about our coasts isn’t the time to raise these concerns, when is?” McMaster was doubly confused about the question blocking as aquaculture was a substantial part of what was provided by the department to the Committee members.    

McMaster mentioned in a news release that the fact that two pens of salmon infected with Infectious Salmon Anemia (ISA) were culled from a farm in Shelburne Harbour, that the Friends of Mouton Bay allege a fish farm polluted their bay and is killing lobster larvae and that the Association for the Preservation of the Eastern Shore has expressed grave concerns about an application for three leases in Shoal Bay, Spry Bay and Beaver Harbour, leaves room for concern by MLAs and others.

Ducking the issue

NDP MLAs in the Eastern Shore – have been under pressure by local residents upset with proposed fish farms in their area. MacMaster said the NDP’s move to rule his questions out of order reveal how much the NDP want to duck the issue. Eastern Shore NDP MLA Jim Boudreau has softened his pro aquaculture stance in the wake of the public outcry in the area, but recently threatened to sue a civic activist for claiming he was pro-aquaculture. 

Liberal MLA Leo Glavine attended the meeting and was disturbed by Prest’s unwillingness to allow questions of the senior department officials regarding the effects aquaculture could have on the coastal waters and coastal communities. "Given the fact that there were at least 600 people at a recent meeting on the Eastern Shore and given that the recent ISA incident in Shelburne has provoked substantial discussion about some critical issues surrounding aquaculture in our bays and harbours, it was very unfortunate that these senior officials were not allowed to inform the committee," Glavine told SCT

Minimizing interest in aquaculture

At one point in the hearing, Justin Huston told the Committee that, in the public surveys for the report, aquaculture seemed to play a minor role. The department news release used to distribute the report also minimized the interest in aquaculture. An SCT analysis of the Summary report showed just the opposite. In fact, the analysis shows that mentions of aquaculture ranked the highest of any of the other topics highlighted in the press release. It had 70% more references than "waterfronts", the next most popular item, 85% more than "public access", 100% more than "development standards", 215% more than "conservation" and 600% more than "coastal hazards".

"Despite all these concerns, the NDP have shown no leadership in ensuring aquaculture is safe and sustainable now and into the future," MacMaster said.  "Aquaculture is a growing industry in our province so it’s important that government get it right."

MacMaster says the Progressive Conservative’s Fisheries and Aquaculture critic, Alfie MacLeod will meet with interested groups across Nova Scotia to hear their concerns and suggestions about making the industry safer and better.