The federal fisheries and oceans minister was in Nanaimo on Earth Day, talking about a turning tide in a changing climate.
Jonathan Wilkinson joined Nanaimo-Ladysmith Liberal candidate Michelle Corfield campaigning on Monday.
The minister said Earth Day should give people pause to reflect on some “critical” environmental challenges that Canada and the world face, including climate change, biodiversity loss and oceans plastics.
“We see the effects of climate change all over the place and it is only going to get worse,” Wilkinson said. “And so the issues around climate change are very fundamentally important as we move forward into what is an election year.
“We need to ensure that Canada has a credible climate plan to be part of the international conversation and I think that the government of Canada does, with the pan-Canadian framework, and we are certainly looking for other parties to come forward with their climate plan.”
An Environment Canada report this month found that Canada is warming twice as fast as the global average. Wilkinson said with that in mind, the nation is a “pre-cursor” in seeing the effects of climate change, and said it should underline the urgency for action.
Wilkinson’s department released a report this month on Atlantic Ocean ecosystems and the minister said it informs some of the expectations of what all Canada’s oceans are facing.
“What you’re seeing is major shifts in certain kinds of species, you’re seeing, obviously, less ice, you’re seeing a whole range of things that tell us that the effects of climate change are upon us,” said Wilkinson.
He said addressing climate change needs to be done thoughtfully, in a way that ensures a strong economy at the same time.
“That means that we need to think about how we incent the development of industries like clean tech … and try to think about a future for Canada that will be an economically strong future in the context of a world where hydrocarbons will need to be less important,” the minister said.
Corfield suggested that through her work with the Port of Nanaimo, she’s seen how business and industry on the water can be balanced with ecological considerations.
“When we have a good, strong environmental process, that enables us to look at our marine sector and the cumulative effects of actions that we take … and predict how we’re going to move forward using our waterways,” she said. “When we take care of the fish, the fish take care of us … Everything is one, everything is connected.”
Minister says chinook closure was necessary
As far as taking care of fish, the fisheries department announced last week a slate of chinook fishing restrictions, including no retention of chinook in the southern Strait of Georgia until July 31. Wilkinson said the decline in chinook stocks is “quite obvious” and said it’s a large group of scientists who make decisions around listing stocks as endangered or threatened. The minister said closing the fishery is a short-term response to complement long-term measures such as habitat restoration and investment in science around stock assessment.
“Part of my job is to ensure that these stocks continue to survive as we do the work on habitat that will benefit them in the long run,” Wilkinson said. “At this stage, we needed to ensure that enough of them are getting back to the spawning grounds to be able to make sure that stocks will continue to thrive and ultimately recover.”
John Hirst, Conservative candidate for Nanaimo-Ladysmith, said in a press release that the chinook restrictions will “ruin companies and destroy jobs.”
Hirst said limited seal harvesting would be the most effective solution in protecting both salmon stocks and southern resident killer whale populations. He said the Liberals have instead chosen a path that will harm industries and the environment.
“This heavy-handed measure by the DFO without consultation with all shareholders is a policy failure at the expense of the West Coast,” Hirst said.
Wilkinson said the decision to close the chinook fishery was a tough one and said his ministry listened to recreational and commercial fishers. He said dialogue is continuing.