Canadian Consulting Engineer

The Department of Fisheries and Ocean’s Modernization Plan: From Vision to Implementation

ACEC met recently with the Honourable Shawn Murphy, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, and presented the following policy paper. ACEC has also sent this paper to the Sena...

April 1, 2005  Canadian Consulting Engineer

ACEC met recently with the Honourable Shawn Murphy, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, and presented the following policy paper. ACEC has also sent this paper to the Senate and House of Commons Fisheries Committees.

Our Message

Despite the efforts by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) Headquarters to modernize its Habitat Management Program (HMP), there are real disparities between DFO Headquarters policy guidelines and local interpretation and implementation. This disconnect is resulting in inconsistent interpretation at the local level, which is stalling significant economic development projects and/or burdening them with unnecessary or costly requirements with no benefit to the fisheries resource. DFO must ensure that its well-designed modernization initiative is understood, embraced and consistently applied at the local level. Not doing so is adversely affecting Canada’s productivity and jeopardizing our nation’s competitiveness.

Our Concern

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Although the Association of Consulting Engineers of Canada (ACEC) recognizes DFO’s efforts to improve its Habitat Management Program, we believe that there are some impediments to successfully implementing the program that need to be brought to the Government’s attention.

ACEC is pleased with DFO’s HMP initiative to streamline and focus their efforts to conserve and protect fish habitat. ACEC recognizes the significant responsibilities mandated to the HMP by the Fisheries, the Species at Risk and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Acts. ACEC also recognizes the tightrope the Department must balance upon, facing the pressures from industry to provide a program that is predictable, transparent and timely; the pressures from other regulatory agencies to ensure coordination and lack of duplication between processes; and the pressure from NGOs (non-governmental organizations) who would like to see the powers of the Fisheries Act extend to all aspects of environmental protection. In fact, consulting engineers and biologists tend to share that tightrope because they must maintain scientific integrity and perform an intermediary role between the regulators and the public and private sector projects.

ACEC firms working throughout the country have found that there are significant differences in the way the HMP is implemented across the nation. ACEC member firms’ main contact with the HMP is at the Area and District level of DFO. It is their experience that the local fish habitat assessment biologists often make decisions without considering direction from the senior levels within the Department or the broader policy context. Although DFO Headquarters has produced numerous guidelines and policy documents over the years, their implementation by local Fish Habitat Management staff is sporadic at best. Consequently, despite the best intentions of DFO Headquarters to resolve the issue brought forward by this and other industry organizations, there is at present no way to ensure that these measures are implemented in the field.

The organizational structure within DFO encourages this lack of direction and coordination because there are no clear lines of authority or responsibility that lead from Headquarters to the local biologist. As a result, local DFO biologists are free to implement the policies they like and ignore those they do not. The disparity between DFO Headquarters policy guidelines and local interpretation and implementation must be resolved to ensure any efforts to streamline the process or to improve consistency throughout the country are to succeed.

ACEC is fully supportive of the Risk Management Framework being pursued under the HMP and is pleased to report that this approach has been successfully employed by some of our members in dealing with DFO’s project-review requirements. These ACEC member firms are more than willing to share this working knowledge with DFO. ACEC also fully supports any efforts to streamline the regulatory review process and any improvements to the process that would facilitate enhanced coherence and predictability.

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