During the current sitting of the legislature, Green Party MLAs repeatedly raised salmon and steelhead issues. It is thought to be the first time in the legislature that a party has made salmon such a significant focus of questions. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver, representing Oak Bay Gordon Head, Saanich North and the Islands MLA Adam Olsen, and Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau all asked the government about fishery issues during Question Period and estimates.
“We are pressing the government for change on a file that has for far too long been pushed aside,” said Weaver. “But although we’ve asked a lot of important questions, we haven’t got a lot of answers.”
“If anything, this week we’ve seen how disorganized and confusing the jurisdictional responsibilities are for salmon and steelhead issues, even within a single government,” said Furstenau,
before reading from a 2007 report by a special legislative committee supported by the NDP. That report called on the government to take immediate action to minimize the negative impacts of fish farms and to enhance wild salmon populations.
“We have enough reports. Given the severe threats to wild salmon, what, concretely, is your government going to do differently to protect this foundation species?” asked Furstenau.
“I want to say that the member does raise valid points,” replied FLNRO Minister Doug Donaldson. But he didn’t promise to do anything beyond consulting First Nations.
Olsen questioned the government about dramatic declines in Chilcotin and Thompson steelhead stocks, which the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife of Canada has recently declared are at imminent risk of extinction.
Donaldson replied that there “was a lack of focus by the previous government on wild salmon and steelhead and a lack of action by the previous federal government.”
But he didn’t say what his government will do about it and instead shifted the responsibility back to Ottawa.
Said Olsen later: “I’m tired of hearing DFO is responsible for BC’s salmon. It is our responsibility as British Columbians to protect that resource. We can’t just stand by while Ottawa continues to pursue policies that put our wild stocks at risk.”
“Every question we asked this week was about steelhead and wild salmon. We haven’t received straight answers to our questions,” he said. “I don’t doubt this government’s commitment to wild salmon, but I wonder about their ability to make concrete changes when it appears it is being managed off the side of everyone’s desk.”
Then he asked the Premier: “Will your government consider creating a wild salmon commissioner or secretariat to unite and streamline the work being done by government to protect our wild salmon and steelhead relatives?”
Replied Horgan: “He has, I think, characterized fairly effectively the challenge that all of us have in British Columbia with co-management of our iconic salmon species, whether they be steelhead, whether they be chum, whether they be chinook, sockeye and the like. But that challenge didn’t just arrive, as you know, and that challenge will take some time to figure out.”
“We’ve heard a lot of words spoken this week. What we’re proposing, with the line of questioning and with the suggestion that I made in my initial question, is action,” Olsen said in the House.