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Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshot

Canadian Prime Minister's Photo Gaffe Highlights Spotty Conservation Record


Using the wrong picture to go with an ad concerning wild salmon habitat restoration shouldn’t be that big of a deal, right? If you are Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who is in the midst of an election campaign, it is a big deal. Let’s just say Harper’s environmental record is less than stellar.

Harper announced on August 22 that if a conservative government is re-elected, $15 million would be spent on British Columbia (B.C.) wild salmon protection. That is great. Where things went wrong from a public relations standpoint is the picture accompanying the announcement. Instead of a picture of a Pacific salmon, the announcement featured a picture of an Atlantic salmon.

A local newspaper, the Ottawa Citizen, broke the story and reported that the picture used was taken by Lee Sutterby, who said he took it in England. The picture has since been replaced, after Harper and his government received much ridicule on social media.

Wild salmon is a major industry in B.C. The industry contributes more than 9,800 jobs and $334.8 million to the province’s economy. Wild salmon also have an environmental and cultural importance. “They are the foundation of British Columbia’s coastal ecosystems,” as the Raincoast Conservation Foundation states, providing food and a cultural focus for First Nations and communities.

Given the importance of the wild salmon industry to B.C., Harper’s $15 million election pledge is a really great thing. Or is it? Anna Johnston, staff counsel at West Coast Environmental Law, doesn’t think so. She told the Huffington Post Canada that it’s just not enough considering the changes his government made to the Fisheries Act impact wild salmon. Harper’s government amended the Fisheries Act in 2013 to narrow how real and significant threats to fisheries and fishery habitats are defined and removed certain protections for fish species, including salmon.

“We just don’t think that $15 million is nearly enough to repair the damage that this government has done to our fisheries and to our waters,” Johnston said.

Harper has been stumping and touting his environmental record along the way. “Our conservation record shows that you can protect our cherished natural environment while still growing the economy,” he said at a campaign stop in Campbell River.

The trouble with his views is that his government’s actions contradict him. Here is one example cited by the National Observer: Last year, Harper approved expanding open-net cage farms off the coast of B.C. The problem is that they are in the path of major wild salmon migrations. This decision is contrary to the decisions of his federal Royal Commission chaired by Judge Bruce Cohen. According to the Cohen Commission, sockeye salmon are in danger and fish farms were the most likely contributing danger. The Commission recommended a moratorium on new constructions of fish farms.

The $15 million for wild salmon protection will go to the Pacific Salmon Foundation. While it has taken part in some beneficial projects and has almost 30 years experience funding research to protect salmon and volunteer activities, it receives donations from large corporate donors. The donor list includes the Royal Bank, CN Railways, Seaspan and BC Hydro, plus federal agencies like Genome B.C. that the National Observer describes as “working closely with the aquaculture industry.”

Image credit: Flickr/Βασιλική Θάνου Πρωθυπ

Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshotGina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

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