By Barry Kent MacKay | Director
Are a Big Fish, Bullying, Politics, Climate Change, Politicians, Scientists and Vladimir Putin Connected?
No. They all have no connection, except in my mind, where they are totally interconnected. Let me explain.
The Big Fish:
On November 1st it was reported that fishing guide Will Sampson had caught, photographed, and released a muskellunge that was over a meter long and estimated to weigh just shy of twenty pounds (9 kg) in Toronto Harbor, where Sampson had fished his entire life without encountering a muskie. In over three decades of monitoring fish on the Toronto waterfront, the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority had never found one either. It proved that decades of actions by various conservation authorities have worked in improving the condition of the once highly polluted lake water.
At the same time educational support staff in the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) were threatening strike action due to an impasse with the Ontario government over various contract demands. No apparent connection, but stay with me.
Near Toronto Harbor is possibly the largest colony of Double-crested Cormorants anywhere. Cormorants and muskies need a healthy environment that can support lots of little fish – that’s what they both eat. Muskies the size of the one caught could lay over 100,000 eggs, most of which don’t hatch. Only a tiny percentage of hatchlings will, by eating smaller fish, grow big enough to be invulnerable to most predators, including birds like loons, grebes, ospreys, mergansers – and cormorants — who eat fish. The presence of both cormorants and a big muskellunge indicate lots of little fish, and an environment healthy enough to survive.
The Politics of Cormorant Persecution:
Members and supporters of Great Lakes Cormorants (https://www.greatlakescormorants.com/) have fought to protect cormorants from those who demonize them with claims that they are somehow bad for the environment, killing too many trees, eating too many fish. Scientists who study things like birds, fish, or wetland ecology, know better and voiced their opposition to Ontario Premier Doug Ford deciding to declare cormorants “game birds”, and have what he first wanted to be a year long open hunting season on them.
Premier Ford knows that opponents to his plan don’t form his voter “base”. Cormorants eat fish. People eat fish, ergo cormorants eat peoples’ fish. He ignored all scientific advice to the contrary. He had to change Ontario’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act to list cormorants as “game” birds with each hunter allowed to shoot up to fifteen birds per day from the start of the season on September 15, until the end of the year even though cormorants are virtually inedible. The Act had specified that “game” not go to waste. To fix the problem Ford amended the Act, allowing hunters to waste the birds.
How many cormorants migrate to Ontario to mate and raise their young? We don’t know. The Ontario government hasn’t released the results of its most recent count. The Ministry’s first count before the hunt started in the fall of 2020 estimated there were about 143,000 cormorants in Ontario. If we suppose only 10% of Ontario’s hunters devote only 10 days to shooting down cormorants, limiting themselves to 2/3 of the daily limit, that is 2,000,000 birds, more than in Ontario or perhaps the whole world. It was the worst wildlife management decision I can think of in Canadian history.
Hunters and wildlife managers claim that hunting is well managed and monitored and that the “game” is respectfully killed and consumed, not wasted. While that might not ever have been entirely true, many hunters have spoken against “wasting” the birds, if only because it creates a bad image of hunting. Premier Ford has not listened to them. With no way to know how many birds are shot each year, or any mechanism to allow management processes and practices that have been in play for so long, and honed through trial and error, the hunt has become a cruel farce.
That giant muskellunge confirms our long-standing claims that science-based management can work, and that presence of predators means a healthy population of prey.
Bullying, Birds, and Unions:
That week I was already very upset about the Premier anyway because he had just again steamrollered through legislative change, in this case by evoking the so-called “notwithstanding clause” to prevent custodians, special needs teachers and other facilitators of childhood education from exercising “rights” supposedly enshrined under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. He and the education minister claimed there was “no choice”.
Again, it’s not true. Either the workers are “indispensable”, and should be so classified, thus triggering binding third party arbitration in labor disputes, or not, in which case they should have the right to unionize and the union, whatever one thinks of its demands, should have the options – “rights” – they were poised to exercise.
How can one fight politicians who are bullying birds when they show quick willingness to bully people doing important work for low wages? As we go to press Ford had backed down when faced with power greater than his own, public opinion and the collective strength of many unions. People don’t know much about cormorants or fish, but they do understand cost of living and the value of our educators and supporting staff. This does not mean that all union demands are always fully valid or justified, it means that we must work together, respectfully, and with acknowledgement of actual facts versus opinions – both are valid but are not the same, and opinions not backed by facts should be so identified.
There’s a pattern here, and it is further illustrated by the revocation of basic rights and freedoms just after the second reading of Bill 23 the More Homes Built Faster Act.
Given that we have just had municipal elections across Ontario, it will probably be passed before many municipal politicians have found where the city hall washrooms are. It is again not me but experts like the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (https://www.amo.on.ca/advocacy/health-human-services/unpacking-bill-23-more-homes-built-faster-act-2022) who decry so giant a step in dismantling hard won safeguards of our municipalities and our environment at a time when we so desperately need those protections to fight our so-far losing battle against the catastrophic effects of climate change.
The same Premier once bemoaned lack of vaccine and mask independence when we were hit with COVID-19. Food independence is even more important to our survival than vaccines, and whether it feeds muskellunge or cormorants or you and me, food of all kinds depends on a healthy environment, and that is increasingly contingent on fact-based government policies that are grounded on the lessons that should be taught by historic precedence having shown us the importance of listening to expert advice; examples abound ranging from rates of COVID infection to, well, the improvement of Toronto Harbor’s water quality. Protecting food security should produce results that supersede the financial returns to the so-called “developers” and investors who are not only a very small part of Premier Ford’s supporter base, but the main recipients of the policy decisions he is imperiously imposing on the rest of us, including, ironically, those who have trusted him.
Ironically, Bill 23 will severely damage the policy control-tools of conservation authorities, which will cause the loss of far more fish and vastly more trees than cormorants could ever impact.
And if you want one more irony, I wrote first draft of this on the day after the UN released its 2022 State of the Global Climate Report and the accompanying media release you can see for yourself, here: https://public.wmo.int/en/media/press-release/eight-warmest-years-record-witness-upsurge-climate-change-impacts.
Most of us who voted in the last provincial election voted for another party than Ford’s because the non-Ford vote was split among the other parties in a “first-past-the-post” voting system, we not only got Ford, but with a majority that allows him to exercise authoritarian impulses.
That is what we are up against, not just one bullying premier who for whatever reason imposes his will, but so many of us who are too caught up with the struggle to make ends meet – as prices soar; pandemics rage; wars break out; climate disaster of fire, draught and flood increase; and uncertainty reigns – to stay informed, let alone develop the expertise needed to appreciate the downside implications of so many government policies.
And what has that to do with Vladimir Putin? If you have to ask, I have failed to get across my point: the authoritarian mind ignores facts out of certitude that it is right, that contrary opinion is wrong; that might makes right; and that bullying equals strength, or “toughness” that is seen as an asset in a world under siege from the forces of greed and ignorance. And so innocent people, and animals, suffer.
That’s the connection.