A lot of people have tried over the years to make fish an issue in elections in British Columbia. And so far, all of them have failed.
But this year, a couple of campaigns are swimming along just beneath the surface that are starting to catch the attention of voters and politicians.
B.C. environmental activist and biologist Alexandra Morton is visiting federal campaign offices around the province to ask candidates: “Do you stand up for wild salmon?” And she is holding rallies, sometimes accompanied by a man wearing a fish-head mask, that are getting media coverage in small towns.
At the same time, a group of sports anglers, who say they are “mad as hell” over halibut fishing regulations, are targeting several swing ridings with the hope of defeating candidates who don’t support their cause.
Ms. Morton, who has an e-mail list with 20,000 names on it, says she’s encouraged by the number of people telling her they are watching her website to find out where candidates stand.
“They say this will affect how they vote,” she said of www.wildsalmonpeople.ca, where she quotes candidates responding to her questions.
She launched her tour on April 13, with stops in Port McNeill, Campbell River, Courtenay and Nanaimo, then hit the Lower Mainland on the weekend, before heading inland for small towns such as Salmon Arm, Enderby, Kamloops, Yale and Hope. She plans to loop back to Vancouver Island, with a rally May 1, in Victoria.
Ms. Morton said she’s been encouraged by the responses of many candidates, who seem to be informed about salmon issues and who are ready to make firm declarations.
But she is not having much luck with one party.
“The Conservatives just don’t talk. They don’t say one way or another where they stand,” she said.
That ensures them a scathing review from Ms. Morton, who feels any candidate who won’t show up to field a question, isn’t going to show up to fight for salmon in Ottawa.
Ms. Morton said one thing that surprised her is that in the middle of an election campaign, many candidates are almost invisible.
“It is really hard to find some of these people,” she said. “A lot of them don’t have offices, so we are asking people in the ridings to find the candidates and post what they say to our website.”
Her campaign hasn’t been getting much attention from big media, but in small towns, she is making news.
“Salmon can’t vote, but are a campaign issue” the Campbell River Mirror stated in a recent headline.
The Campbell River Courier-Islander not only covered her rally (noting the absence of incumbent Conservative candidate John Duncan) but also published an editorial commenting on the shortage of political concern about salmon.
“Maybe the salmon and other wild fish just aren’t as important to us as they used to be and maybe that’s simply because there’s only a fraction left of what used to be,” the Courier-Islander lamented.
While Ms. Morton has been busy trying to get salmon on the election agenda, other fish activists have been urging voters to think about halibut when they go to the polls. The focus of that campaign is an unpopular decision, made earlier this year by federal Conservative Fisheries Minister Gail Shea, which maintained a policy that splits the halibut allocation, giving the commercial sector 88 per cent of the catch, and sports anglers 12 per cent.
Nathan Cullen, the NDP incumbent in Skeena-Bulkley Valley, said that he’s run into the halibut lobby, and has taken notice.
“I think they are the most organized guys in the election. They have great lists … and I really believe halibut could determine three or four seats,” he said.
The halibut gang, he said, are focusing on a few ridings where the race is tight, including his.
Not surprisingly, Mr. Cullen and Ronna-Rae Leonard, the NDP candidate in Vancouver Island North, recently released a joint statement making it clear they side with sports anglers in the fight over halibut quotas.
Given the closeness of some B.C. races, coming down on the side of halibut anglers or embracing Ms. Morton’s salmon campaign may mean candidates won’t later have to lament the one that got away.