Ontario premier moves to establish right to hunt & fish

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Thursday, October 11, 2001.

Hunting, fishing almost legal right

By John Kerr, Toronto Sun

Premier Mike Harris has moved one step closer to fulfilling a promise he has made several times during the past two years.

Last Friday, the Ministry of Natural Resources released a proposal for an act that would "legally recognize the right to hunt and fish in accordance with the law" and establish a Fish and Wildlife Heritage Commission.

Examining what the first proposal actually means will have to wait for the legal details in any resulting legislation.

Information on what powers a commission would have are also sketchy, but here are a few thoughts to consider.

According to Brett Kelly, press co-ordinator for Minister of Natural Resources John Snobelen, the current Fish and Wildlife Advisory Board will become the new commission, with an expanded role to advise the minister on promoting participation in conservation programs, hunting, fishing, other wildlife-related activities and tourism.

The FWAB is appointed by the minister and has no teeth. Snobelen ignored its advice in the past and, unless new legislation prevents it, is just as likely to ignore a revamped "commission" when politics get in the way.

The classic example was the cancellation of the spring bear hunt to appease anti-hunting groups targeting Harris in Hamilton-area ridings before the past election. There was no conservation concern of sustainability for cancelling the hunt. Ontario's black bear population was, and is, thriving.

To be fair to Snobelen, no one doubts that Premier Harris made the call to end the hunt. But it showed that the FWAB is powerless when it counts.

Several FWAB members resigned in disgust, and the province is tied up in a court challenge with the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters over the hunt ban.

OFAH wants a spring hunt reinstated. Key to its case is to have fishing and hunting declared constitutional rights. Constitutional rights, however, are a federal responsibility.

Still, if a bill encompassing the MNR's proposals is passed by the legislature, "It guarantees that (Ontario anglers and hunters) can continue their activities," Kelly said. It's as strong a move as the province can make to recognize hunting and fishing rights.

OFAH's response is cautious.

"Hunters and anglers have made enormous contributions to Ontario socially and economically for generations," spokesman Mark Holmes said. "Government recognition of those contributions is an important statement of support."

Indeed, an MNR news release states recreational hunting and fishing contributes $3.5 billion to the provincial economy annually and supports more than 30,000 jobs. I doubt any political party would jeopardize this contribution.

Holmes declined to comment on whether a provincial heritage act would affect its court case. "They're separate issues," he said.

Are they? From my perspective, Harris goofed in cancelling the spring bear hunt, and he probably knows it. He didn't score the political points he expected. The Progressive Conservatives actually lost several Hamilton-area ridings, and it got Harris, an avid angler, into a love-hate relationship with the hunting and fishing community.

If Harris really wants to patch things up, he should first reinstate the spring bear hunt.

OFAH should then drop its court challenge.

Only then can Harris get on with fine-tuning his heritage-act proposal with the full support of anglers and hunters.

No doubt it will come under attack by animal-rights groups.

The proposal has been posted on the Environmental Bill of Rights Registry Web site (www.ene.gov.on.ca/envision/env_reg/er/registry.htm) for a 30-day public-comment period.

The public can send written comments until Nov. 4, referencing EBR registry No. AB01E6001, to Deborah K. Stetson, Manager, Wildlife Section, MNR Fish and Wildlife Branch, 300 Water St., P.O. Box 7000, Peterborough K9J 8M5. phone 705-755-1940; fax 705-755-1900.
 

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