Federal government to restore regional planning forum for lower Fraser River

The government is looking to reinstate regional planning forums that were cancelled by the previous Conservative administration.

Delta MP Carla Qualtrough and Parliamentary Secretary for Environment and Climate Change Jonathan Wilkinson were at Canadian Coast Guard Base – Sea Island on Nov. 25 to announce specific initiatives from the federal government’s Oceans Protection Plan that will benefit Lower Mainland communities and B.C. as a whole.

The federal government is reinstating regional planning forums, including one for the lower Fraser River, cancelled under the previous Conservative administration.

Delta MP Carla Qualtrough made the announcement Friday morning (Nov. 24) alongside Parliamentary Secretary for Environment and Climate Change Jonathan Wilkinson at Canadian Coast Guard Base – Sea Island, located near the Vancouver Airport’s South Terminal.

The move is one of several initiatives from the federal government’s $1.5-billion Oceans Protection Plan, announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier this month, that were highlighted at Friday’s event.

Qualtrough said the government is looking to previous regional planning forums like the Fraser River Estuary Management Program (FREMP) and the Burrard Inlet Environmental Action Program (BIEAP) for future direction on engagement and regional planning in four pilot areas, including southern B.C.

“Over the past year, the most consistent message I have heard is about the need to reinstate an effective regional planning mechanism along the Fraser River and in the Burrard Inlet,” Qualtrough said. “Groups who agreed about nothing else all agree that this is needed.”

Qualtrough said environmental groups, municipalities, First Nations, businesses, individual citizens and the Vancouver Port Authority have all called for the reinstatement and updating of these programs as effective ways to discuss cumulative impacts and take into consideration diverse perspectives.

She said mechanisms like FREMP allow for a holistic view of planning and development, in this case along the lower Fraser River, rather than focusing on how it affects the community in which a project is being built.

Wilkinson said the reinstated FREMP would allow individuals to have a bigger role in decision making by giving them a proper forum in which to voice their concerns.

“Right now, that all gets pushed into environmental assessments, which is not really the appropriate place because you’re actually dealing with a project, not with how do you actually manage the planning going forward,” he said.

“I did an environmental roundtable with groups around the Fraser River a few months ago and people are very concerned about how they actually have impact or input into regional planning and decisions around things that will actually have effects on their communities.”

Qualtrough said Transport Canada is still in the preliminary planning stages of what these regional planning forums will look like.

Also on the list of initiatives highlighted at Friday’s event were investments in the Canadian Coast Guard’s towing capacity and an increased partnership with First Nations.

Qualtrough reiterated the government’s commitment to installing towing kits on four coast guard vessels in B.C., as well as adding a new large ship to further increase the coast guard’s overall towing capacity and helicopter-deployable tow kits that could be air-dropped onto any large vessel (coast guard or commercial) that is available to help ships in distress.

As well, Qualtrough said the government will work with coastal First Nations to design and launch new indigenous community response teams, starting in B.C.

Building on the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary model, the government will work with interested indigenous communities to design and establish new national Indigenous Auxiliary chapters in the Arctic and the Pacific.

Individuals and groups who want to be part of the federal marine safety system will participate in training to support search and rescue missions, environmental response and incident management activities.