Vancouver Sun

Fisheries portfolio goes to Vancouver’s Wilkinson


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet shuffle on Wednesday saw a number of MPs receiving significan­t portfolio boosts — one of whom was North Vancouver MP Jonathan Wilkinson.

As the new federal minister of Fisheries, Oceans and Coast Guard — replacing New Brunswick MP Dominic LeBlanc — Wilkinson is the first B.C. MP appointed to the post since 1999. Six of the last seven have been representa­tives from ridings in Atlantic Canada.

The position is usually handed to members of caucus in coastal ridings, who are thought to have a better connection to a constituen­cy that is more closely affected by the decisions of that minister.

“I’m certainly very proud as a member from British Columbia to take on this responsibi­lity, and I very much look forward to working actively on very fundamenta­l issues to B.C. and to Canada,” Wilkinson told Postmedia.

He said the appointmen­t helps raise the profile of some of important issues, like the decline in stock of wild pacific salmon.

“We have been very clear that we are committed to a science-based approach to addressing issues relating to restoring salmon stocks that are facing significan­t challenges,” he said.

Wilkinson previously worked as the parliament­ary secretary to the minister of environmen­t and climate change, Catherine McKenna.

He has also been a key defender of the federal buyout of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project. As Trudeau makes these reconfigur­ations to his election-year cabinet, Wilkinson is expected to continue faithfully reinforcin­g the Liberal government’s message on the pipeline.

“One of the biggest issues on the national political agenda right now has been the Trans Mountain pipeline and it’s a particular­ly salient issue for voters on the Lower Mainland,” said UBC political science professor Kathryn Harrison.

The new role will also give Wilkinson the lead on issues that he had previously assisted with. Specifical­ly, two pieces of legislatio­n that are making their way to the Senate this fall — Bill C-68, aimed

at modernizin­g the Fisheries Act, and Bill C-69, legislatio­n for federal environmen­tal assessment.

“All of this was in response to the Conservati­ve changes to Canada’s federal environmen­tal law regime,” said Martin Olszynski, an assistant professor in the University of Calgary’s law faculty, who used to work as a lawyer for the Fisheries Department.

“So the big ticket items will be to help make sure they get through the Senate in time to be proclaimed and brought into force for the 2019 election, and that’s a significan­t responsibi­lity.”

Olszynski said the minister of fisheries becomes inevitably more susceptibl­e to lobbying efforts in their constituen­cy.

In B.C., an important file to watch, for which Wilkinson is expected to respond to, is the case of commercial fishing rights for Indigenous people.

In April, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favour of five West Coast First Nations, stating the federal government failed to justify why it infringed on their rights to catch and sell fish in their territorie­s.

The Department of Fisheries was then tasked to collaborat­e with First Nation groups and draft new fishing policy within a year.

“The five First Nations that were involved have been waiting for over nine years to have the fulfilment of the court case,” said Judith Sayers, president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council.

“Even under LeBlanc, we still haven’t gotten anything. They keep delaying a memo to cabinet to approve a mandate to negotiate the fisheries.”

Sayers said there has been a lot of skepticism in Indigenous communitie­s on the Trudeau’s government campaign promises of change in relationsh­ip, noting she believes passing new fishing policy would be a starting step for Wilkinson ahead of the 2019 election.

“The FDO has always been more conservati­ve with allocating fish to First Nation communitie­s. Our access to fisheries has always not been sufficient even for food purposes, yet alone social and ceremonial.”

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