Fishy side of politics exposed

By Malcolm Baxter

MIDWAY through the federal campaign, the Kitimat Halibut Allocation Task Force continues its efforts to make the allocation an election issue.

By Malcolm Baxter

MIDWAY through the federal campaign, the Kitimat Halibut Allocation Task Force continues its efforts to make the allocation an election issue.

It’s embroiled in a controversy with commercial halibut fishermen and the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans over who should be allowed to catch halibut.

And as part of that, the task force had a session with Skeena-Bulkley Valley New Democrat incumbent Nathan Cullen to update him on their latest efforts and to seek his comments.

Cullen told them BC was “a big battleground” with seven or eight seats that could be crucial to the outcome of the federal election. And on North Vancouver Island, a tight race, halibut is indeed one of the key issues.

Cullen also noted he is even hearing about it on the doorstep in inland communities like Burns Lake and Smithers.

“All the parties in Ottawa live in a bubble,” Cullen explained. “They think it’s all about the leader or its position on Afghanistan or something.”

While those things did factor into the result, it is different in every riding and there can be local issues that drive the debate.

Cullen recalled two elections back the Conservative party line was they were in favour of open net fish farms. However the candidate in Skeena-Bulkley Valley had to switch positions in mid-campaign because he was getting “hammered” on the issue.

And he had found himself in a similar situation in  2004 over the gun registry.

In response to a question from Task Force chairman Ron Wakita on whether the election meant nothing could change until it’s over, Cullen said the federal Fisheries department (DFO) could modify policy even in an election period.

And while DFO is loathe to change any policy, especially in mid-stream, Cullen added, “When you start to affect the political outcome of things on an issue, that’s when policy starts to shift.”

That said, he cautioned shifting allocation between the commercial and sports fisheries ran counter to the department’s underlying philosophy to privatize the resource, “to make it a commodity like anything else.”

Malcolm Baxter is the editor of The Northern Sentinel in Kitimat.