commending the Commission

Last night the Cohen Commission (Commission of inquiry into the decline of Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River) made its debut in Prince George to hear submissions from the public.

I must commend the Commission on how they conducted business. I was impressed from the moment I arrived at the Cranbrook South room at the Ramada Hotel. I was warmly greeted at the door by Commission staff, given clear instructions on how to pass along my P.Point presentation to other staff, and simply treated with warmth and respect through the process.

No stern looks about arriving at 6:35 for a 6:30 start, no look over the top of the glasses for not sending my presentation earlier (which wouldn’t have been possible as I had just finished putting the presentation together 20 minutes earlier), and — most impressively — the set up of the room.

I have far too many experiences of government hearings (BC Aquaculture review, Priddle Panel of a decade ago on B.C. Offshore oil & gas activities, Kemess North mine expansion Environmental Review, recent Enbridge Northern Gateway National Energy Board hearings, and so on, and so on) — whereby the great “listeners” (Panel members, MLAs, etc) sit at their head table at the front of the room facing the audience and presenters sit at a table, backs to the audience and other presenters.

It’s an absolutely ridiculous, foreign, and disrespectful way of carrying out important business.

Last night, the Cohen Commission had the room set up in a circle, presenters facing the audience and standing beside Justice Cohen’s table. There was even the option to speak from the centre of the circle with a wireless microphone.

A welcome was given by a member of the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation — appropriate for the setting and the topic.

Presenters were asked to try and keep within the 10-minute limit — however, there was no oppressive overbearing presence if one went over the limit. Respect was shown for a small ceremony during presentations. And a gift was given at the end of the night for the Lheidli member who opened the evening.

It was a really nice change from what seems to be standard protocol for these types of processes — and for that I commend the Commission. It is one heck of a schedule of events for Commission staff over the next 8-months — with the final report due in May 2011.

As many folks continue to point out — this is the fifth “commission” of sorts into salmon and Fraser sockeye in the last two decades.

With the change in approaches demonstrated… maybe, just maybe, this will be the Commission that can institute real change in how Pacific salmon and specifically Fraser sockeye are cared for and looked after.

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