Oh, how I wish I could declare Province House a protected wilderness. How else to preserve that rare and forever-endangered flower, political common sense. Now that the NDP juggernaut has swept into office, political common sense may be trampled into extinction. Consider, for example, last week's verbal gyrations performed by our new environment minister. Sterling Belliveau was trying to justify changes to the Wilderness Areas Protection Act allowing the slaughter of seals in a protected area.
Being an NDP environment minister, you'd think Belliveau would have fought tooth and nail to preserve the sanctity of every square inch of protected wilderness. After all, the New Democrats won recent praise from activists when they promised to spend $81 million this year to buy up privately owned land to protect as wilderness. (Only about nine percent of the province is protected wilderness now, but the government has pledged to work toward a target of 12 percent by 2015.)
But then, incredibly, there was Belliveau giving himself the power to allow the slaughter of grey seals in the protected wilderness of Hay Island off northeastern Cape Breton. He actually told the legislature (I'm not making this up) that his new law will "strike a balance between economic and environmental interests."
OK. Let's see now. The seal pups that are the target of the slaughter are wild, right? And, they're in a protected wilderness, right? And the reason we have protected wilderness areas is to protect the wild plants and animals within them, right? In the words of the law, wilderness areas "protect representative examples of natural landscapes and ecosystems." So Sterling, why do we suddenly need "to strike a balance between economic and environmental interests" in a protected wilderness?
In the legislature, Belliveau resorted to a stunning barrage of non-commonsensical gobbledygook to justify the slaughter. He began by noting that the Tories allowed a "seal harvest" on Hay Island for the past two years. (They got around the law by claiming a seal slaughter would preserve the island's biodiversity, presumably by saving fish that seals eat.)
Here is what Belliveau told the legislature (again, I'm not making this up): "While studies to assess the benefit of this harvest to the island biodiversity have been inconclusive and there is no evidence to suggest that there has been any harm done to the island because of these seal harvests, and since we have this information, our objective with this amendment is to make the process for allowing the Department of Fisheries and Oceans seal harvest on Hay Island more straightforward."
Belliveau performed this verbal two-step while glossing over a striking conflict of interest. Yes, our environment minister is also minister of fisheries, a department that desperately wants us to blame seals for the continued decline of cod stocks wiped out by decades of overfishing. Trouble is, there are no credible scientific studies to show that seals eat enough cod to make a crucial difference. For example, a 2006 study from the Bedford Institute of Oceanography says there's little evidence that seals are mainly to blame for the continued decline of the stocks. The study emphasizes there is much scientific uncertainty, adding that grey seals do eat cod, but cod are only a small part of their diet. It concludes that while grey seals contribute to a decline in the cod stocks, even killing all of them "would not assure the recovery of the cod population."
No matter. Belliveau can now authorize the slaughter of seals in a wilderness area. The record shows that NDP MLAs voted en masse to give him this power, except for Howard Epstein, who didn't vote at all. I'd say the environmentally savvy Epstein would have been a much better choice as environment minister than the hopelessly conflicted Belliveau. But, then again, appointing Epstein would have made political common sense-—and, around Province House these days, common sense seems to be going the way of the cod.