Trudeau, Liberals returning to power, with uncertain consequences for Canadian aquaculture, fisheries

Canada’s Liberal Party and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have won national elections that saw them lose their majority, but retain enough support to return to power with a minority government. 

The outcome may have significant repercussions for Canada’s fishing and aquaculture sectors, as the Liberal Party platform called for both more marine protected areas and a shift away from net-pen farming to land-based systems.

While the Conservative Party won the popular vote across Canada, the Liberal Party won 157 seats in the 338-seat House of Commons, compared to the 121 seats won by the Conservatives. Having lost their outright majority, the Liberals will now have to seek support from one of Canada’s other parties to pass legislation.

The Liberal win could portend a coming fight with Canada’s aquaculture industry over the party’s platform, which called for a shift of all net-pen fish farming in British Columbia to land-based, closed-containment systems by 2025. Newfoundland Aquaculture Industry Association Executive Director Mark Lane called the plan an “insult” and BC Salmon Farmers Association Executive Director John Paul Fraser lambasted the proposal, telling the National Post it was designed to appeal to urban voters.

“The Liberal Party’s aquaculture platform commitment to ‘transition from open net-pen salmon farming to closed containment systems by 2025’ is destructive, careless, and flies in the face of making decisions about aquaculture based on science and facts,” Fraser said. “At a time when leaders should be focusing on climate change and climate action, the Liberal Party is looking to shut down the seafood farming method with the lowest carbon footprint and suggesting it transition to a technology that depends on manufactured energy. This move would have significant environmental repercussions. It would also have economic repercussions for the families of 7,000 middle-class workers in B.C, negatively impacting the health and wellness of coastal communities.”

Fraser said the plan goes against policy work his organization has done with Trudeau’s own government in its previous term, and could spell disaster for the country’s entire aquaculture sector, which accounts for 26,000 full-time jobs and generates CAD 5.4 billion (USD 4.1 billion, EUR 3.7 billion) in economic annual activity in Canada.

“While closed-containment salmon farming has been successful at a smaller scale – and research and trials continue – no one in the world has successfully raised a large number of salmon in a commercial-scale land- or sea-based closed containment operation,” Fraser said. “The technology is currently developing and we certainly anticipate closed containment systems will play a larger role in the future. But to forcefully mandate a five-year ‘transition’ is unachievable, especially when there is no business case or transition plan behind it. This is a recipe for industry stagnation and significant unemployment.”

A joint statement issued before the election by the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance echoed statements issued by its regional counterparts.

“The Liberal party has consistently said it will base decisions on science. There is no evidence that B.C. salmon farms are harming wild salmon populations. While pilot projects to grow salmon to full size in closed containment are happening around the world, this work needs to continue in partnership and without any artificial mandates and timelines,” it said. “No other nation has proposed this requirement of their salmon production. If implemented, this requirement will only move local, top-quality production to other countries that may not have the high environmental standards Canada already employs. “

In a letter sent by the CAIA and NAIA to federal candidates in Newfoundland and Labrador, the two organizations lobbied against eliminating net-pen farming in British Columbia, warning that Atlantic Canada would be the next target of anti-net pen advocates.

“If the platform promise is fulfilled in British Columbia, the activist community will focus its efforts on the East coast to support their cause and Atlantic Canada will cease to exist as we know and enjoy it today,” they wrote. “Coastal communities that are once again growing because of our industry will die. It is up to you and we hope you will choose long term sustainable jobs and sustainable food production in small communities all across Newfoundland and Labrador. We ask you to fight back and show Newfoundlanders and Labradorians that you have their back and will fight to keep ocean-based farming not just alive but help it thrive.”

Canada’s Maritimes played a significant role in this year’s election, with the Conservatives successfully targeting them electorally, picking up four seats and breaking the Liberals monopoly of the region’s federal representation. Fisheries Council of Canada President Paul Lansbergen said issues concerning the seafood industry are of high importance to residents in the Maritimes, and therefore they have gotten more national attention this year than in previous election years.

“I think it is playing a bigger role this year than it has in the past,” he told SeafoodSource before the election. “Part of that is election-year politics and part of that is just a greater emphasis on the health of our oceans in the international discourse.”

Representatives of Canada’s wild-catch sector have also been critical of some of the Liberal Party’s positions, including a move to increase the percent of Canada’s in-shore and exclusive economic zone designated as marine protected areas (MPAs). Currently, just under 14 percent of Canada’s waters are designated MPAs. Trudeau’s government has discussed ramping that up to 25 percent by 2025 and to 30 percent by 2030.

Lansbergen said before the election, his organization reached out to both major parties to inform them of the impact such designations could have for Canada’s fishing industry. The FCC’s position is that MPAs are not always the best conservation tool to use for marine areas, and that the government should exercise greater discretion in creating them. Lansbergen also listed combating plastics pollution and burnishing the Canadian seafood brand as high priorities for his organization.

“This election could have a significant impact on how Canada addresses these issues over the next few years,” Lansbergen told SeafoodSource.

In the coming days and weeks, Trudeau will appoint cabinet and parliamentary secretaries, and then must move forward with recalling Parliament and electing a speaker. Under Canadian law, the Prime Minister and his executive appointments have a high level of authority to dictate fisheries and marine conservation policy. Lansbergen said his organization hopes to work with the new government to enact “smart policy” on marine issues.

“We will be working very hard to advance our sector priorities with all political parties,” he said. “The issues are challenging with longstanding implications for the sector and coastal communities.”

Photo courtesy of Arindam Banerjee/Shutterstock


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