Ottawa – On the appointment of the Hon. Diane Lebouthillier as the new Minister of Fisheries, Oceans, and the Coast Guard, Nature Canada has addressed a public mandate letter to the Minister, calling on her to deliver on the government’s long-standing promise of healthy oceans for all.
“Canadians want the oceans protected,” says Akaash Maharaj, Nature Canada’s Director of Policy. “The Prime Minister will undoubtedly mandate Minister Debouthillier with ocean protection, but we are relaying the mandate of Canadians that she put deeds to those words. We recognize it is easier to agree to commitments than to fulfil them. The mandate from the people is not about making promises, but keeping them: for the Minister to publish a work plan, lay out which commitments will be prioritized, explain how they will be achieved, by when, and to be held publicly accountable for the results.”
Maharaj calls this a “People’s Mandate Letter,” in contrast to political letters that the Prime Minister gives to each Minister. He notes that the knowledge to protect the oceans has been carried forward by Indigenous communities for generations and buoyed by robust evidence-based science. The missing pieces are political will and accountability.
Nature Canada’s concerns are echoed by 10 other groups who signed on to the “People’s Mandate Letter” and the list continues to grow.
The letter lays out over a dozen specific policy initiatives needed to advance the ocean protection agenda, mirroring the format of the letter sent by Prime Minister Trudeau to previous Oceans Minister Joyce Murray, who announced this summer she is not seeking re-election.
“This government has said for years that the economy and the environment go hand in hand,” said Maharaj. “And right now, the environment is in crisis, as we face mass extinctions. Coastal communities rely on healthy oceans, which demand more and stronger protection for marine habitats. If we continue to pressure our ocean ecosystems with shipping, drilling, and overexploitation, we cannot expect them to remain healthy and productive. A durable future for the marine economy demands ecological restoration in the short-term and careful stewardship in the long-term.”
The Trudeau Ministry has shown positive movement in recent months, having recently concluded public consultations on its forthcoming National Biodiversity Action Plan. This document, expected in early 2024, will lay out how the federal government will attempt to meet its commitment to halt and reverse nature loss by 2030. The new Oceans Minister will be instrumental in ensuring that the plan has the necessary provisions to reach ocean conservation targets, to fund co-management and leadership of marine protected areas with Indigenous nations, and to address gaps in marine protection standards that allow polluting industries to operate even within supposedly “protected areas.”