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Vaughn Palmer: NDP bear hunting proposals could backfire, again

Time:2016-11-26 17:57Shoes websites Click:

Opinion 1 columnists Vancouver Sun

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UBCM 2016 address by the Leader of the Opposition John Horgan on Sept. 29, 2016. [PNG Merlin Archive]

VICTORIA — When John Horgan promised this week that a New Democratic Party would reduce grizzly bear hunting, he must have been hoping that the announcement would play out better than the last time his party took aim at the controversial hunt.

The date was Feb. 8, 2001, not long before the end of the NDP’s near decade in office. Then-Premier Ujjal Dosanjh and Environment Minister Ian Waddell went before a press conference to announce a three-year moratorium on grizzly bear hunting.

Facing an unavoidable election call in a matter of weeks, Dosanjh and his ministers were desperate for a wedge issue to use against the surging-in-the-opinion polls B.C. Liberals.

But the stand they took that day mainly succeeded in wedging the party’s urban MLAs against its rural ones.

For a mere half-hour before Dosanjh was scheduled to make his announcement, reporters were summoned to the legislature office of Harry Lali, cabinet minister for transportation.

There a tearful Lali announced his resignation from cabinet coupled with a decision to not seek re-election in his Yale-Lillooet riding in the southern Interior.

No fan of Dosanjh, he’d been eyeing the exit for some time. But his chosen timing was calculated to do maximum damage.

Nor did he leave much doubt that the last straw was the moratorium on the grizzly bear hunt, imposed over the objections of himself and other NDP MLAs who represented rural ridings.

“An NDP government must respond to the needs of both urban and rural British Columbians,” said Lali. “And above all, I believe that the best decisions are the ones made by consensus.”

Adding to the drama of the day was a last-minute intervention by cabinet minister Corky Evans, who tried unsuccessfully to talk Lali out of quitting, arguing that his rural views were needed at the cabinet table.

Evans was himself a defender of the grizzly bear hunt, having argued during the previous year’s party leadership (he finished second to Dosanjh) that a ban would pit New Democrats against each other at a time when party unity was paramount.

The Nelson-Creston MLA would later describe the behind-closed-doors showdown over the moratorium as “the stupidest thing that ever happened” during the NDP’s time in office.

“I watched rural MLAs get up in caucus over and over and say, ‘if you do that, you might as well write off every riding outside Surrey,” said Evans. “Then you would look at some of the central team members and they would not look you in the eye, and you could see they had already decided to do that.”

The quotes are from Daggers Unsheathed, Judi Tyabji’s mostly sympathetic book on the demise of the NDP government of which her husband Gordon Wilson was a part. As to the moratorium on the grizzly bear hunt, she characterizes it as a decision taken for political reasons to court support from the environmental movement that never fully materialized.

Lali and Evans were not alone in expressing reservations about the moratorium.

“The closer you are to grizzlies the more you think they should be kept under control, whereas the farther away you are, the more you think they are beautiful beasts,” said cabinet minister Dave Zirnhelt, MLA for one of the Cariboo ridings. “The farther away the better as far as I am concerned.”

Also taking a swipe against urban New Democrats on the issue was Kootenay MLA Erda Walsh. “It’s unfortunate that they act so moralistic about it. They don’t live here and they don’t understand the issue.”

Nor did Skeena MLA Helmut Giesbrecht hold back, even as he prepared to take up Lali’s post at the cabinet table. “Who knows where this stuff is leading,” he challenged. “It could be the thin edge of the wedge and you get into a ban on all hunting.”

In contrast to Dosanjh’s broad-brush moratorium, Horgan this week put the focus on trophy hunting of grizzlies. Even there, it appeared indigenous people and native-owned guide-outfitting companies, could find ways around the ban.

Horgan is trying to fend off Green Party leader Andrew Weaver, who has been calling for a ban on trophy hunting for two years. But the NDP leader may be putting his base at risk in rural areas.

The NDP holds some rural ridings like Skeena, Stikine and Columbia River where the ban on trophy hunting could be unpopular. And it will need to win seats where the Horgan stance could be controversial as well.

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