Salmon crusader grades politicians
Marine biologist, Alexandra Morton wants B.C. voters to answer her SOS to save wild salmon. Dubbed “Mayday for Salmon,” Morton’s latest campaign to save the species, is her poll of federal candidates in Vancouver Island, the Interior, Lower Mainland and along the Fraser from Hope to Delta.
Morton tried to track down as many candidates as she could over the past two weeks and asked: “Will you remove salmon feedlots from B.C. waters within 12 months of being elected?”
The answers, she says, will show who wants wild salmon to survive.
“Vote for people who care,” Morton pleads. “Trust your instincts. You know who’s blowing you off.”
It’s Wednesday April 20 in Maple Ridge. Local hopefuls, Craig Speirs, NDP, Peter Tam, Green, Mandeep Bhuller, Liberal, and Conservative incumbent Randy Kamp take questions in the Maple Ridge Library. Morton enters clutching the fibreglass cast of a spawning male coho caught near Quadra Island.
Her friend, Anissa Reed, adjusts a salmon-head mask. She’s a mother from the coastal village of Echo Bay where Morton researches killer whales and salmon. Reed tells me why she’s here.
“If there’s anything I want to leave my daughter, it’s wild salmon and a healthy ecosystem.”
Alexandra tells the candidates that fish farms contribute $500 million to the economy and employ about 1,200 workers. Wilderness tourism contributes $1.6 billion, and 30,000 jobs.
She also explains that on March 17, the DFO’s Pacific director general of science, Dr. Laura Richards, was put on the stand at the Cohen Commission to answer questions about a ministerial brief regarding a virus (salmon leukemia) that became epidemic in salmon feedlots on sockeye migration routes in the 1990s.
Morton says the DFO knew about the virus and suspected it was one of the three major causes of the 2009 sockeye decline, but did not release this information to the public.
Health records of farm fish are now being examined by Cohen.
The DFO supports the farm fish industry. “The DFO is irrelevant,” Morton says. I agree.
I ask Alexandra to give our candidates a letter grade and report card comment.
Peter Tam: “He’s strong on effort. I could tell he is serious about what he’s doing. He supports wild salmon. I’d give him a B-.”
Craig Speirs: “The man’s a hard working candidate, very informed about it, very energetic and capable. He gets a B+.” She’d vote for him.
Mandeep Bhuller: “Very thoughtful, but hadn’t looked into the issue or read the papers. I’d have to give him a C-.”
Randy Kamp: “His response was we’re going to wait for the Cohen Commission to decide about salmon farming.
“I asked are you committed to implementing the findings of the commission if it says fish farms are destructive?
“He said no, he’s not committed to acting on them.
“He looks like a man who’s getting in the way of protecting wild salmon. I’d give him a D+.”
“Not an F?” asks Anissa.
“What do students get who haven’t done the work get, Jack?” asks Morton.
“An ‘I’ for Incomplete.”
“Well, Kamp gets an Incomplete on his report card because he hasn’t done the work he’s supposed to have done.”
It’s Thursday in West Vancouver. Don Staniford handles Morton’s itinerary. He’s waiting to hear which candidates will see Alex this morning. I ask Morton to rate the parties while we wait.
“The Liberals have no clear platform on this issue; some are pro-salmon, others are saying they’ll wait for the real science which I take offence to because I’ve written 25 papers on the subject.”
The Conservatives. “I’ve been treated rudely or brushed off by most of them. They’re hard to reach or talk to in general. Their offices are sterile.
“The word must be coming down from Ottawa because the candidates all have the same responses; all speaking the same language. I have no idea why people vote for them. I think they want to dam the Fraser River.”
The NDP. “In the NDP offices I’m looking into real, genuine faces. They support wild salmon.”
Stanford announces the Green candidate will see Morton in Squamish later. He couldn’t locate the Liberal.
Terry Platt, NDP, didn’t have an office. “She’s welcomed us into her home,” Don says.
Morton asks Platt if salmon’s an issue in her campaign. She says voters seem more interested in the economy.
“The environment is the economy for us,” says Morton.
When we leave Morton forgets her coho. Platt rushes up with it in the street. Don takes a picture as Platt and Alex hold the salmon between them. After meeting the Green candidate in Squamish, Morton decides she’d vote for him.
John Weston, the incumbent Conservative offers us popcorn at his campaign office, then meets us at a café. Alex asks the questions. She implores him to “be brave; gird your loins” when he answers.
Later, I ask her to assess Weston’s responses.
“He’s not going to do anything. He didn’t say he’d protect wild salmon, or he’d get rid of fish farms if the Cohen Commission said they were destructive.”
On May 1, Morton leads a walk into for wild salmon from Sydney to Victoria. See who she’d vote for here.