A Year of Change

[Note: The following was first published in the December 2015 Alberta Outdoorsmen.]

Copyright © 2015 Don H. Meredith, All Rights Reserved.

Another election, another upset. Change seems to be the watchword for 2015 in both Alberta and Canada.

New Federal Government
Change is upsetting to some people and the election of Justin Trudeau’s federal Liberals to a majority government this October caused many to predict dire consequences. But fortunately we live in a democracy and bureaucracies ensure that the smooth transitioning of governments respect the realities of the day. Life goes on.

Slave Lake perch

The federal Fisheries and Navigable Waters Acts ensured our fisheries were protected.

Of course there will be change. That is what the majority of voting citizens wanted. As anyone who reads this column would suspect, I was glad to see the Harper Conservatives go. Almost from the beginning of their rein, they set back the environmental safeguards that protected the ecosystems providing life’s essentials, including what sustains our fish and wildlife. They also short-circuited parliamentary democracy with their omnibus bills and robotic ministers reading from texts prepared by unelected Prime Minister Office staff—just to name two examples.

That’s not to say the Liberals will be any better. Although I supported the ousting of the Conservatives, I wasn’t sure whom I should vote for. Regardless, the Liberals won the day and made many promises, several of which will be difficult to fulfill. Here is my list of top environmental priorities I would like to see acted upon:

  • Climate Change—the federal government needs to work with the provinces to develop and implement a carbon reduction plan that catches Canada up with the rest of the world and perhaps take a leadership role in developing new technologies. We will be using fossil fuels for quite a while but we need a plan to reduce that use as soon as possible, our future depends on it.
  • Fisheries Act and Navigable Waters Act—these federal acts used to be the backstops for protecting our fisheries from habitat destruction. If provinces wouldn’t step up, the feds would. Corporations did not like having to comply with the regulations and lobbied successive governments to reduce what was required. Governments acquiesced, first cutting staff and ignoring regulation violations. The Conservatives took it to the next level and gutted most provisions that protected fisheries habitat from destructive activities. Suddenly there was no protection for populations of fish that used to be an important part of our heritage. The federal government needs to bring those provisions back and provide the manpower to enforce them.
  • Science and Scientists—much has been written about how the federal Conservatives muzzled government scientists, especially when their research results didn’t bolster conservative ideology. Science is about finding the truth of things, not reinforcing political ideology. Above all, government decisions should be based on good scientific knowledge. And Canadians need to hear from those scientists so they too are better informed about the world around them and the decisions that need to be made.
  • Species at Risk—the federal government and the provinces need to get together and discuss how they intend to protect the wildlife species that are at risk of extinction. It’s not enough to pay lip service to how important these species are while not do anything to protect them or their habitats. Species, such as the woodland caribou, can be brought back but crucial habitat must be preserved, habitat that is also important for many other species, including fish and game.

Firearms
One of the scare tactics used by some supporters of the federal Conservatives during the election was that the Liberals would bring back the dreaded long-gun registry. It wasn’t the Liberals but the New Democrats that promised to do that. The Liberal platform makes it clear that the registry is not on the table, and we should hold the government to that promise. It must always be remembered that the anti-gun lobby is strong and concerned firearm owners should keep a wary eye. The following are some of what the Liberals have promised to do with regard to firearms:

  • enhance background checks for people seeking to purchase restricted weapons;
  • reinstate the permit to transport restricted and prohibited weapons;
  • implement gun marking regulations for imported firearms;
  • provide $100 million each year to the provinces and territories to support police in fighting gangs and the use of illegal weapons; and
  • enhance technology at border crossings to detect and seize illegal weapons.

If any of these adversely affect your use of firearms, you should let your respective Member of Parliament and Judy Wilson Raybould, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, know your concerns.

Wabamun Gun Range

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to find a place to shoot.

Gun Ranges
2015 has also been a tough year of change for those of us who use gun ranges. As I reported here in October of last year, the Spruce Grove Gun Club (SGGC, west of Edmonton) has been having issues with residents of nearby acreage developments with regard to noise and errant bullets allegedly coming from the range. In the fall of 2014, the club successively defended the renewal of its annual development permit before Parkland County’s Subdivision Development Appeal Board (SDAB) after making some changes to the range to increase safety and reduce noise.

That permit came up for renewal again this fall, and again the residents appealed the county’s decision to approve it. Much to the surprise of both the club and the residents, the SDAB sided with the residents this time and denied the SGGC a permit, citing noise and safety concerns. The club shut down operations on November 9th and is contemplating whether to appeal the SDAB decision to the Alberta Court of Appeal. The closing of the range puts 900 people out of a place to shoot and puts a lot of pressure on the remaining ranges in the Edmonton area.

Shooters in southern Alberta were not immune to range closures. In late October the Alberta Provincial Rifle Association announced it will close the public rifle and shotgun ranges located at its Homestead Shooting Facility in Kananaskis Country on December 31, 2015. The Homestead Facility is on land leased from the province and is a complex of several ranges, most for club members only. The public ranges were created, as part of the lease agreement, to allow the public to have a place to sight-in firearms and otherwise enjoy shooting without having to join a club. Unfortunately, many people abused this privilege and the range became unsafe and a depository for garbage. In consultation with the Alberta Chief Firearms Officer, the club decided the public ranges had become too dangerous and should be closed.

These range closures illustrate an ongoing issue that’s not going to get any better. If you want to legally shoot your firearm, you’re going to have to pay significantly for the privilege, most likely travelling a good distance from your home. Many people can’t or won’t go to such ranges, and some might resort to illegal firearm use, which won’t help anybody and could lead to more restrictions. If you are concerned about having a place to shoot, you should make your concerns known to your local government representatives. As well, join and support your local fish and game or firearms club that lobbies government on your behalf.

2015 has indeed been a year of change on many fronts. 2016 promises to be no different. Here’s hoping some of those changes are for the better for you and your family.
Happy Holidays all!

Comments are always welcome (below).

www.donmeredith.ca

Interested in reading an award-winning outdoor adventure novel? Check out The Search for Grizzly One and Dog Runner.

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About Don Meredith

I am a writer and biologist living in Alberta, Canada. I write a monthly column for the Alberta Outdoorsmen magazine.
This entry was posted in Alberta, Alberta Outdoorsmen, Canada, Climate Change, Conservation, Environment, Firearms and Shooting, Fishing, Hunting, Politics, Wildlife and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A Year of Change

  1. Carl Hunt says:

    As an ‘over-the-hill’ biologist and environmentalist that still hunts & fishes, I strongly support Don’s priority list for change to protect our environment but would like to add a few more. Things like politics and free trade (corporate control) agreements might seem far removed from habitat protection but without some serious changes in the way we choose politicians and do business, nothing will change, except for more exploitation and insidious destruction of renewable resources.
    1. We need a new system of voting so we never have to endure environmental destruction based on majority governments that do not have the democratic support of Canadians. Our democracy needs a ‘makeover’ with an effective senate and reduced power of the backroom boys, bagmen and corporate lobbyists in the Prime Minister’s Office.
    2. Free trade agreements made in secret and adjudicated by business tribunals only benefit global industries and limit the effectiveness of democratic governments to protect our renewable resources, including the planet.
    3. The old Fed Fish Act was obsolete before it was gutted by Harper and his corporate supporters. The old act was effective in the 1980s when most of the pollution was from point sources like, pulp mills, petroleum spills or maybe sewage outfalls (except farm feedlots in Alberta). Modern threats to habitat are based on the cumulative impacts of many industrial activities that cause small incremental destruction from sediment, from a thousand road stream crossings, unrestricted OHV use, gravel & coal mining, hanging road culverts, seeping pesticides, & fertilizer from agriculture, golf courses and manicured urban lawns and yes even the impacts of cottage docks and beach clearing for a small swimming area on every lakeshore lot (an example used by the Conservatives to eliminate ‘petty regulations’).
    Hunters, fishermen and environmentalists continue to haggle about F&W harvest regulations, stocking, aeration, and other trivial issues or struggle to patch up a few kilometers of stream bank or protect a park for wildlife habitat, which are all good projects, but until we deal with the political priorities and habitat protection – its all a lost cause.
    Carl Hunt

  2. Don Meredith says:

    All good points, Carl. I agree with them all. We have lost and are losing a lot.

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