Stephen Harper government, notorious for defense of Atlantic Canada seal hunt, ousted after 10 years
OTTAWA, VANCOUVER––“The reign of the Stephen Harper government has collapsed,” exulted Association for the Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals executive director Lesley Fox on October 20, 2015, the morning after Harper’s 10-year Conservative Party of Canada regime collapsed in the 2015 fall election.
“A massive Liberal wave washed across Canada,” Fox continued, “resulting in the first Liberal Party majority since the 1990s under the tutelage of Jean Chretien.”
Led by Justin Trudeau, son of two-time former Canadian prime minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau, who died at age 81 in 2000, the Liberal Party of Canada won 184 seats in Parliament, to 99 for the Conservatives and 44 for the New Democratic Party of Canada.
Humane Voters Canada win 7 of 8
Seven of the eight candidates endorsed by Humane Voters Canada, a project of Animal Justice Canada Legislative Fund, were elected. Among them were Don Davies (NDP, Vancouver Kingsway), Fin Donnelly (NDP, New Westminster-Coquitlam), Nathaniel Erskine-Smith (Liberal, Beaches-East York), Hedy Fry (Liberal, Vancouver Centre), Mark Holland (Liberal, Ajax), Brian Masse (NDP, Windsor West), and Elizabeth May (Green, Saanich-Gulf Islands).
Inasmuch as the Harper government was widely regarded as the most anti-animal regime in living memory, the Canadian animal advocacy vote, such as it is, is believed to have been almost entirely split between the Liberals and the NDP––except among pit bull advocates, who bitterly oppose the province-wide pit bull ban adopted in Ontario under a Liberal government in 2005.
The ban has not been strictly enforced under the current Conservative government, but has reduced pit bull attacks in the metropolitan Toronto area by 92%. There have been no pit bull fatalities in Ontario since it has been in effect. Ontario shelters, all combined, impound and kill far fewer pit bulls per year than either Buffalo or Detroit, the two nearest large U.S. cities.
But the effects of non-enforcement were evident on October 14, 2015, when Chatham-Kent police and the Ontario SPCA impounded 31 live pit bulls and a dead pit bull from an alleged dogfighting operation in Tilbury East Township. CBC News reported that 276 related criminal charges are pending against three individuals who also face 92 charges for other alleged crimes.
While Justin Trudeau does not appear to have specifically addressed the Ontario pit bull ban, he is widely believed to support it.
“What does it mean for Fur-Bearers?”
“But what does [election of a federal Liberal government] mean,” Fox wondered, “for The Fur-Bearers––our campaigns, goals, and hopes? And more importantly, what does it mean for the animals [in general]?
“Right off the top,” Fox acknowledged, “we must address the 2010 Christmas card of the Trudeau family wrapped up in coyote fur, something Justin defended vigorously at the time. This alone ensures,” Fox opined, “that the newly formed Liberal government will not reach out to animal advocates and suddenly shift the direction of welfare, environment, or related policy.”
Fox, of Vancouver, British Columbia, was nonetheless hopeful that some of the political reforms promised by the Liberal Party during the 2015 campaign would be “something we can grab as hope for the future. Proportional representation – in whatever form it may ultimately take – will mean greater debate in Parliament, more work at compromise between members and parties, and more opportunity for organizations like The Fur-Bearers to present serious issues to our government.
“The Liberal platform also contained a promise of more free votes,” Fox noted, “meaning that members can vote to represent their constituents’ wishes, as opposed to the party’s agenda. The Fur-Bearers will be very busy in the coming weeks,” Fox pledged, “setting up meetings with newly elected (and re-elected) members of Parliament across the country. We will also be closely watching the formation of the new cabinet and shadow cabinet to determine how these appointments may influence policy and campaigns.”
Animal Alliance Environment Voters
From Toronto, Ontario, Animal Alliance Environment Voters Party of Canada leader Liz White offered ANIMALS 24-7 a similar perspective.
“As we have seen in Europe and other countries with proportional representation,” White said, “animal and environmental protection parties tend to have a much greater influence. In the Netherlands of course, the Party for the Animals has two elected officials at the national level. Proportional representative in Canada has the potential to change the dynamic of the legislative agenda in Ottawa,” White emphasized, “and the Animal Alliance Environment Voters Party of Canada is well situated to use that influence to get better animal protection laws in Canada.
“Among the elected Liberals,” White continued, “there are those with a demonstrated track record in advocating for better animal protection legislation with their party and in parliament. Trudeau has promised greater independence and latitude for cabinet and caucus members, which of course is significantly different from Harper. This has the potential to allow for more animal protection issues to be considered as part of the legislative agenda.”
White expressed hope in particular that the incoming Liberal government might be more friendly toward birds.
“Harper was very pro-hunting, trapping, fishing”
“Harper was very pro-hunting, trapping and fishing,” White recalled. “Harper talked about opening up the Migratory Bird Convention Act and regulations to increase the number of migratory birds that could be hunted,” including sandhill cranes, until now a protected species.
“He also talked about encouraging hunters from outside Canada to hunt these birds and would open up the hunt to bowhunting. I suspect that these initiatives will not move forward,” White offered, “but we have to be diligent to makes sure they don’t proceed.
“Discussions have been proceeding,” White said, “about opening the Toronto Island Airport to jet planes. The Conservative government has been very open to this idea. However, the planes will take off and fly over the largest cormorant colony on the Great Lakes and certainly one of the largest waterbird colonies. Suffice to say that bird strikes could become a very big issue, resulting in serious impacts on this amazing colony. The importance of this colony is the work done by the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority in an alternative non-lethal approach to cormorants with fantastic success.
“The Liberal government has made some commitments with regard to the airport that may end the discussion of jets and therefore protect the waterbird colony,” White hoped.
“None of three major parties good”
Commented Ontario wildlife artist, ornithologist, former Toronto Sunday Star nature columnist, and Born Free USA senior program associate Barry Kent MacKay, also bringing to bear perspective as a founding director of Zoocheck-Canada, the Animal Alliance of Canada, and Species Survival Network, “None of the three major parties is noted for being particularly good on animal welfare issues. I am not sure that the Liberals will be any better or worse than the outgoing Conservatives.
“That said,” MacKay acknowledged, “none of the other parties could have been as bad as the Harper government was for social policies, democratic principles and, specific to concerns about animals, the environment.
“One huge difference I am hoping for,” MacKay said, “and will advocate for, is this: free up federal scientists to again talk about their work and findings directly to the media and the interested public — those of us whose taxes pay for their work. I would hope, as well, that there would be funding restored to agencies doing good environmental and other social policy work that was independent of promoting a specific political party, that environmentalists were no longer seen as hostile to Canadian interests, and that audits and revocation of charitable status would no longer be used to intimidate environmentalists and other activists.”
Justin Trudeau views mostly unknown
From an animal advocacy perspective, new Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau is––apart from his 2010 enthusiasm for coyote fur––something of an unknown. His younger brother Michel was notably fond of a Labrador mix named Makwa, who remained with Michel’s remains for five days after Michel, 23, was killed by an avalanche in 1998 that knocked them into frozen Kokanee Lake, British Columbia. Justin Trudeau is known to have had dogs, but not to have been especially close to any.
Observed Silver Donald Cameron of The Green Interview, broadcast from Halifax, Nova Scotia, “Harper’s government was supportive of the seal hunt and the trade in seal pelts, and certainly they were wholly supportive of net-pen aquaculture, which is a pretty cruel way to raise salmon. But whether Trudeau will be different on this one is more than I can really say.”
Agreed Alka Chandna, the Ontario-educated senior researcher for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, “I can’t say with any confidence what the arrival of Justin Trudeau means for animals. As you probably know, in Canada, the Liberal Party is progressive on social issues, but is still very pro-business. Consequently, the Liberal victory may not mean anything for animals, as it will be business-as-usual for all the industries that use and abuse animals.”
Affirmed Vancouver cat advocate Judith Webster, “The only thing I recall about Trudeau and animals was the 2010 Christmas card attacked by PETA –– Justin is not against good old Canadian wild fur.”
Good riddance to Harper cabinet
Except for Justin Trudeau’s defense of his appearance in coyote fur, said Dave Shishkoff of the Vancouver organization Vegan Start, “I don’t know a lot about Justin Trudeau on animal issues. Perhaps more significant than Harper leaving,” Shishkoff suggested, is the departures of former minister of fisheries and oceans Gail Shea and environment minister Leona
. ”Both have been huge proponents of fur and the seal hunt,” Shishkoff explained. “Both lost their races, and are gone! I don’t know if their replacements will be any better, but am glad to see them out at least.
“I don’t know if much will change,” Shishkoff continued. “The ‘heritage’ of fur has no reasonable or financial incentive. It’s purely political here – in some rural areas these mentalities equals votes, and so there’s value to keeping them happy. If people in Canada voted in opposition to the seal hunt, the Green Party would be their only choice. The other three are in support of it to varying degrees,” as was the Green Party too as recently as August 2002.
“I knew Justin’s father”
Offered Cindy New, of Montreal, a lifelong ethical vegetarian animal advocate who twice won the Montreal International Marathon, and used the opportunity to advance a meatless diet, “I knew Justin’s father,” beginning when the late Pierre Elliot Trudeau asked New to lunch after her 1988 Montreal International Marathon victory.
“I always felt he was aware of what was going on with animals,” New continued. “However, animal rights [in Canada] has not improved in any way since 1988. From what I know Quebec is not doing very well with the protection of our animals. I would very much like to know who was the better leader for animal protection. I was glued to the election news this last year and never heard anything for our animals. I never heard anything of what [the candidates] did for animal protection, nor if they had any animals themselves.”
May be good for horses
Sinikka Crossland, executive director of the Canadian Horse Defense Coalition, based in Orangeville, Ontario, was somewhat more optimistic about the change of governments––at least where horses are concerned.
“Environmental and animal welfare concerns were definitely not on Harper’s to-be-considered list,” Crossland blogged, “and this fact reared its ugly head numerous times. When Member of Parliament Alex Atamanenko,” an NDP member from British Columbia, “introduced a bill that would have stopped horse slaughter, as well as the export of live horses for slaughter, the Conservatives were largely opposed.”
Sought “transparency & accountability”
Explained Atamanenko of his bill, C-571, “I had hoped to follow an example set by the European Union, to have the same food safety standards, transparency and accountability applied to the horse meat industry as are required of all animals that are raised to produce food for the human food chain. Horses are commonly and even routinely administered a long list of common medications labelled as toxic and not intended for use in food animals because no safe limits or withdrawals periods have been established. Unlike the cattle industry, which has food production as its primary purpose, the horse slaughter-for-meat industry mainly exists to dispose of the industrial by-product from the equine sporting industry where abuse and overuse of drugs is rampant.”
“Justin Trudeau stood up”
That got him nowhere. “When Bill C-571 came up for a vote in May 2014,” Crossland recalled, “all but two very pro-active Conservative members of Parliament voted against it. Most NDP members voted in favor of the bill, although, for some inexplicable reason, party leader Thomas Mulcair did not support it. The Green party, admirably and predictably, stood in support of Atamanenko’s initiative. The most notable development, however, was a unanimous display of support by the Liberal party, headed by Justin Trudeau, who stood up without hesitation and cast his vote for Bill C-571.
“This opens up the very real and exciting possibility that a political campaign to end horse slaughter in Canada will have a successful outcome under a Liberal majority government,” Crossland opined. “Prime Minister-elect Justin Trudeau showed strong support for ending horse slaughter in May 2014. Will he remember the direction of his vote that day? The Canadian Horse Defense Coalition will make sure that he does,” Crossland pledged. “Over the coming months, we will work on finding a Member of Parliament to introduce proposed legislation similar to Bill C-571.”
But several prominent Canadian animal advocates told ANIMALS 24-7 that they do not expect the transition from the Stephen Harper government to a government headed by Justin Trudeau to mean much of anything at all.
“I don’t pay much attention to politicians at either the provincial or federal level,” said Vancouver Humane Society executive director Debra Probert, “because they never do what they say they will, or if they do, it’s never effective.”
Animal Advocates of British Columbia founder Judy Stone offered an even more cynical view. “Representative government can’t be anything but corrupt because we are forced to vote for flawed humans rather than for ideas,” Stone said. “And pols tend to be more flawed than the average person or they wouldn’t be attracted to politics in the first place. I will not hold my nose and vote for a lesser evil. So I don’t vote.
“But I am watching [a current] bestiality case to see if the Supreme Court of Canada comes down with a judgment that forces the government to rewrite the criminal code section on bestiality,” Stone continued. “I trust the justice system far more than I trust any self-serving government, especially in Canada, where judges are appointed, not elected. Electing humans is the root of political corruption. The history of judicial social activism makes me know that there is no way to stop social progress. Elected humans have tried to stop every step forward, but eventually, justice prevails.”