by Barry Kent MacKay,
Senior Program Associate
Born Free USA's Canadian Representative
Barry is an artist, both with words and with paint. He has been associated with our organization for nearly three decades and is our go-to guy for any wildlife question. He knows his animals — especially birds — and the issues that affect them. His blogs will give you just the tip of his wildlife-knowledge iceberg, so be sure to stay and delve deeper into his Canadian Project articles. If you like wildlife and reading, Barry's your man. (And we're happy to have him as part of our team, too!)
For the first time ever, I have no candidate
On June 12, we Ontario citizens go to the polls to vote for our next provincial government. Canadian politics are too different to easily explain to those not familiar with the process, but to put it simply, there are three major and one minor (plus numerous fringe) parties vying for votes. The incumbent party is the Liberal (who are not very “liberal”): normally a centrist to center-left party. I have voted for them in every election for decades, once even joining the party. I have done so, however, mostly to block the right-wing Progressive Conservative (PC) party, by voting “strategically” for the party most likely to beat the PCs. To put it simply, I find their way of thinking bizarre, and their platform, frankly, dangerous.
And then there is the usually left-of-center New Democratic Party (NDP), whose current leader, Andrea Horwath, has moved far to the right. They have never run a candidate in my own riding who has had a remote chance of winning. The Green Party of Ontario is still trying to get at least one candidate elected. It won’t happen where I live.
My late father, and a great many (mostly) young people of his generation, fought, suffered, and often died in the Second World War so that I COULD vote—and, unlike many around me, I take the responsibility very seriously. I have voted in every federal, provincial, and municipal election since I was old enough to do so, and have campaigned for the odd candidate. And, contrary to what you may think when you read what I’m about to say, I have tried very hard to balance all of the issues before making my decisions. The things I look for are honesty, intelligence, transparency, inclusiveness, compassion, and most of all, fact-based decision making. I fear ideologues, even if they support my interests.
Now, for the first time in years, even though I still fear the PCs (whose leader wants to cut 100,000 government jobs, which he thinks will somehow produce a million private sector jobs—with every economist pointing out that he has made a fundamentally catastrophic error in his math), I just can’t vote Liberal—and it does have to do with the spring bear hunt.
People who, unlike me, live in central and northern Ontario where the black bear is common, understandably fear them. Not having read the actual research done by bear biologists, they’ve become convinced that, by shooting bears in spring, they will reduce the risk bears pose. Every study indicates otherwise, but the Liberal government ignored those studies and did not consult with people, including its own scientists, who have intently studied bears for years. They simply played on the fears of voters. The research shows that what works is when communities strive to reduce bear “attractants,” such as garbage. But, communities don’t want to do that. The provincial government did have a “Bear Wise” program that was also working, but the Liberals cut funding.
Recently, my colleagues polled candidates, as did the Peterborough Examiner at the local level, on this one issue. Looking at answers to the Examiner’s poll, the Progressive Conservative candidate said that bears were becoming more numerous, thus putting myth ahead of fact. Ever more sophisticated means of judging bear population sizes shows no significant increase in bears. Coming in late with his answer, the Liberal candidate repeated the myth about the increase in bears, and essentially repeated that this was a “test” hunt in eight wildlife management units for two years, to judge the results. He did not mention that there were already such comparisons, all ignored by his party.
Even the Green Party member, while stating that all animals have “intrinsic value and the right to exist,” said that reducing conflicts between bears and people may require a spring hunt.
Again, the evidence from when there was a spring bear hunt all showed that a spring hunt was not the determining factor in numbers of bear/human conflicts. It also showed that, although it might be illegal to shoot mother bears with cubs, that scenario would inevitably happen, with the cubs dying of starvation.
Only the NDP came up with a nuanced answer: to create an all-party committee to devise a strategy, doing the right amount of work needed to find the solution to a problem we all want solved. Even the NDP candidate repeated the pervasive myth that bear/human encounters have increased.
It is not, as I say, that the spring bear hunt is the only issue. The Liberal Party in power wasted huge amounts of money, and has undercut the endangered species legislation. But, its last budget was pretty good, and the NDP came into a lot of negativity for not supporting it—thus triggering this election. Frankly, I’m tired of all of them and like none of them. But, I will use something I know a lot about as the litmus test as to who is the least worst… and it looks like I’ll be voting for the NDP.
By the way, as an interesting sidebar: when my colleagues dropped a critique of the spring bear hunt decision into the riding of the minister who came up with it, they began to receive critical phone calls from people who were convinced that the bears had increased and so had conflicts—and that it was because of the cancellation of the original spring bear hunt fifteen years ago. In each case, my colleagues offered to send the caller copies of all of the reports and scientific studies that the Minister had ignored so that they could make up their own minds on a more informed basis. Not one has taken up the offer.