My generation remembers René Lévesque, the feisty, chain smoking premier of Quebec, and indefatigable foe of Trudeau.
Beloved by a majority of Francophones, to whom he was known as “Ti-Poil” or “Little Hair” for his comb-over and tiny physical stature, the man was the embodiment of Quebec’s Sovereignty and the staunchest advocate of separation.
Lévesque’s accomplishments during his decade as premier beginning in 1976 were considerable: he recognized the wisdom of nationalizing his province’s hydroelectricity and created Hydro-Quebec; under his leadership the government of Quebec created and enacted the Charte des droits de la personne, forward thinking legislation that among other things, made Quebec the first province in Canada to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation; he was instrumental in cleaning up political patronage by revamping political financing; he was the driving force behind Quebec Charter of the French Language, which included the ever contentious Bill 101; and, he pried social services out of the hands of the Roman Catholic Church and made them the business of the state; together with Gilles Grégoire he created the Parti Quebecois, which has alternated between the party in power and the official opposition in Quebec ever since.
A little known part of the Lévesque legacy is Opération gestion faune or Wildlife management operation, which led to the creation of the zone d’exploitation contrôlée, or Controlled harvesting zone.
When Lévesque took office, most of Quebec’s outdoor recreation was controlled by private interests. It had been that way since 1885 when the government of the day enacted laws allowing private fishing clubs exclusive fishing and hunting rights as a way to reduce the costs of wildlife protection and to put more money into the government’s coffers. Not surprisingly, the number of hunting and fishing clubs increased.
By the end of the Second World War, there were 615 clubs operating over 30,000 km². Thanks to the increased affluence created by the post war economic boom, the demand for fish and game rose dramatically. By 1965, there were 2,200 clubs with dominion over 78,000 km² of Québec. By the time the Parti Quebecois came to office, the demand for free access to natural areas by a growing number of hunters and fishers and by those eager to pursue other outdoor activities was growing. It was essential that the government find an alternative to the prevailing system. Besides, exclusivity offended the premier’s socialist sensibilities.
Québec, said the premier, was the only place in the world where exclusive hunting and fishing rights were granted over such a large area of public lands, thus the government is putting an end to a system that no longer had its place in a modern state.
A territorial infrastructure was set up. The management of each territory or zone (Zec) was then entrusted to non-profit organizations who elected honorary administrators to manage each Zec. Currently almost 600 members make up the Boards of Directors that manage the 62 hunting, fishing, and recreational ZECs in the province. Apart from those there are 21 salmon Zecs.
Zecs are managed on four principles: a balance between demand and supply must be maintained; access to the resource must be equitable; each zone must be a democratic entity, managed and administered on a volunteer basis; and, Zecs must be self financing through revenues generated by the sale of membership cards, and daily access rights, as well as the sale of hunting or fishing packages or packages combining both these activities.
Recently, I spoke to my good friend, Bob Clay, of Kispiox River and Rod building fame, who has fished on salmon rivers operating on the Zec principle. Bob told me that the system works well. The managing board of the river he fished grades the beats on the river according to which offers the best prospects to which promises the least. Access to the river is obtained by the purchase of daily tickets on a first-come first-served basis. The pools and runs at the top of the quality list cost more to fish and have fewer tickets available, and so it goes right down to the least productive more crowded pools and runs. The system is flexible. Adjustments can be made to the number of users depending on conservation requirements. Changes to the river or the size of the returns can be factored into the number of tickets sold. No tickets can be sold for an area determined too environmentally sensitive to withstand angling pressure.
Small is beautiful and local control is good. The Zecs are managed by community organizations. This gives authority to people who are locally invested, have local knowledge, and, almost always, have the greatest concern for their environs. Local control also gets away from blanket provincial rules that aren’t as sensitive to local realities. Compared to other jurisdictions, enforcement of the regulations is a dream. All an officer has to check tickets.
As crowding becomes more and more an issue on many of our rivers, the Zec template may be a very good model to deal with it.