NDP leader plays both sides of the fish farm fence

Meeting was a chance to rally the troops and give a boost to recently-nominated Vancouver Island North NDP candidate Rachel Blaney

Alistair Taylor

Alistair Taylor

Federal leader of the opposition Tom Mulcair popped into town Sunday on a pre-Christmas Island road swing for a Town Hall type meeting at the Homalco Cultural Centre.

This ostensibly public meeting was a chance for Mulcair to rally the troops and give a boost to recently-nominated Vancouver Island North NDP candidate Rachel Blaney.

I won’t say Muclair is the most fiery of orators but we’re not actually in an election campaign yet, although one is expected next year. Perhaps he’ll catch fire once the writ is officially dropped.

However, an early issue of contention may have reared its head at Sunday’s gathering on which the NDP is going to have to clarify its position. In the question and answer period that inevitably follows these presentations, two members of the audience asked Mulcair his stance on not just salmon farming but how he was going to get rid of salmon farming.

“Are you against fish farms and if so, how fast are you going to get them out of our waters,” one person asked. “Fish farms, they gotta go.”

Another questioner made it sound like all in the room were itching to mount the battlements to engage the enemy on this issue. I don’t know if that actually was the case, there was certainly support, perhaps half the room applauded her call to arms.

Mulcair himself did a masterful job of sounding like he was behind the call yet at the same time hedged his bets. Mulcair talked about how he happily noted that the first restaurant he stopped in in B.C. offered wild salmon. He also lauded Fin Donnelly’s work on the aquaculture file. Asserting that “the way things are being done out here has been a disaster.”

But then Mulcair asserted that any NDP position on  salmon farming had to be based on science.

“What’s needed is you have to start listening to the science here and that’s not what they’re (Conservatives and Liberals) doing,” Mulcair said

“We would sit down and look at this situation as we receive it when we arrive (as the government),” Mulcair said.

The NDP would then sit down and discuss it with players involved and look at what has to be changed “to make it sustainabile in the long term, if at all.”

Which is a good thing to base your policy on, you can’t deny. Mulcair’s position is that they have no position on salmon farming but when they do develop one, it will be based on science.

So, in case you missed it, Mulcair said the current situation is a disaster but the NDP will consult with scientists and stakeholders if they form the government and make changes if they’re needed. That does not sound like a plan to ban fish farms as soon as they form the government.

Of course, if they form the government, they’re going to have to develop a policy pretty darn quick because aquaculture is an issue that’s not going anywhere.

It’s particularly relevant to Campbell River because we have a new mayor who has declared his desire to continue developing Campbell River as a centre for the aquaculture industry in B.C.

Aquaculture is also a significant employer in this riding and the opposition to it is by no means universal.

Earlier in his presentation, Muclair said the NDP is going to outline its policies so that everybody knows where they stand. His performance on the aquaculture question Sunday sounded suspiciously like dodging the bullet.

There’s enough science around right now for the party to define its stance. Goodness knows, both environmentalists and the aquaculture industry have commissioned plenty of studies.

I don’t know if it was as obvious to anybody else as it was to me how he tried to sit on the fence on this issue. There’s no doubt it’s a landmine in this riding. Now, to be sure it is only one issue of many that Mulcair touched on but if Sunday’s meeting is anything to go by, it appears the minefield has been laid.

Campbell River Mirror