Editorial: It’s not the time to gut [Department of] Fisheries

Here’s an editorial from the Victoria, BC Times Colonist the other day:

Editorial: It’s not the time to gut Fisheries

With declining salmon stocks and concerns about fish farms and the impact of climate change, we are going to need to more knowledge than ever before. This is not the time for a dumbing-down of Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

Yet the federal government has sent letters to 400 DFO employees, including about 200 scientists, warning them that they could be affected by a pending “workforce adjustment,” the usual term for a large-scale termination of employees.

In other words, the government is looking to get rid of some of its experts, just when they will be needed the most. Remarkably, officials within the department insist that it is still determined to have strong fisheries research — research that would be more difficult to complete without enough staff.

The department’s stated mission is to deliver safe and accessible waterways, healthy and productive aquatic ecosystems and sustainable fisheries and aquaculture. It will be guided, it says, “by the principles of sound scientific knowledge and effective management.”

The federal government pledged in the 2011 budget to cut costs in the department through a strategic review, and further cuts might be coming next year. The government wants to find another $4 billion to cut from its annual expenditures.

It would be foolish to think that governments exist to provide employment, or to provide services that are not really needed. It is just as foolish, however, to believe that governments can keep cutting bodies and slashing spending in a desperate attempt to keep taxes low.

There is a rational limit to cutting; beyond that point, ideology is being allowed to prevail over common sense and effective, efficient government.

We could mention Defence Minister Peter MacKay’s use of a government helicopter to save him a short commute by car, or Treasury Board president Tony Clement’s liberal spending on a single Ontario electoral district under the guise of G8 security needs. But those would be cheap shots.

Instead, we will note that the Cohen Commission, which was set up to examine the reasons for the decline of the Fraser River sockeye salmon, is widely expected to call for more research and more information — not less.

The government might believe that it can rely on independent researchers and laboratories, but that would be wishful thinking. For consistent, objective research, the federal government needs to set the standard.

If it guts its research offices, it would be hard to restore them when common sense returns. The top scientists would have moved on — and being logical thinkers, they would not risk giving up their new roles to go back to a department that is little more than a political football.

This is a critical time for our oceans — a time when smart people should be cherished, not shown the door.

_ _ _ _ _ _

It’s often a curious thing when the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) is everyone’s whipping puppy on many fronts, then news of layoffs come and folks start saying: “no, no, no… not layoffs… we need those employees.”

Sure brutal timing for the folks getting layoff notices… nothing like that pink slip coming a couple weeks before Christmas. Way to go Grinch Harper.

I suppose the swifter kick in the nether regions comes on top of stories like this today from the Globe and Mail:

MacKay spent $1,450 a night while staff settled for $275 hotel rooms

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation is accusing Defence Minister Peter MacKay of living like a king while attending conferences in Europe.

The watchdog group has uncovered hotel bills through access-to-information laws that show the minister spent $1,452 a night for a two-night stay at a luxury hotel in Munich and $770 a night for three nights in Istanbul, Turkey.

So MacKay is apparently getting picked up by rescue helicopters from posh fishing lodges on the taxpayer bill, and the Conservative government is sprucing up the Muskoga region with $50 million spent building gazebos and however much spent on building a fake lake for a G-20 summit, and the other excesses in Conservative MP Tony Clement’s riding.

I can simply add on here that I’ve attended enough ‘fisheries-related’ meetings where DFO will arrive with upwards of fifteen staff members, which ends out being half of what was already attending the meeting from other organizations. So a meeting of say thirty representatives all of a sudden balloons to forty-five when DFO arrives. Sometimes DFO folks have taken two flights by jet, rented a car, got hotel rooms, etc. so that the numbers can simply be ballooned.

It often makes little sense — and they continue to do it, even though it’s been suggested many times that there really isn’t that much need for that many Department employees at some of these meetings. And, in fact, it can take away from the productivity of the meeting. Simply running through introductions ends out taking more time then required.

So, yes, very unfortunate for those receiving pink slips — Yet, at the same time just more disconnection notices within the civil service of Canada and Provinces, and complete disconnect amongst politicians.

Why not cut the bonuses and salary increases of senior bureaucrats, cut down their travel budgets and expenses and keep some scientists and conservation staff working…

Plus, senior DFO bureaucrats seem to have a hard time listening to their scientists in the first place… look no further then the North Atlantic Cod collapse, or… or…

2 thoughts on “Editorial: It’s not the time to gut [Department of] Fisheries

  1. kd

    I disagree completely with the Colonist article and prefer to think this is the perfect time to not necessarily ‘gut’ DFO, but completely reshape it.
    Public faith in DFO is at its lowest ever probably…now is the perfect time for change.
    Get rid of the bloated middle to upper management and return to doing the basic science and stock assessment required to make informed decisions.

    Get rid of the mess of consultation processes that lead nowhere.

    Rename the new agency to focus on the fish not the use of them.

    Hopefully, Cohen’s recommendations will support such systemic change for DFO.

  2. salmon guy Post author

    you bet kd, thanks for the comment.

    maybe if Cohen doesn’t do it, then it’s time for a Citizen’s Assembly or a referendum of sorts…

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