I have been on a family vacation on the Central Coast for the past week. It has been an amazing experience. Frankly, it has not been difficult to set my work - politics - aside and enjoy time with my family. The Heiltsuk Territory is inspiring.
Who am I kidding? There is always politics!
A couple years back I wrote about the Chilcoten Princess, a derelict vessel tied haphazardly to the decaying dock of the former cannery at Namu. I had never been to Namu but worked on the derelict vessel file for many years as a Central Saanich Councillor.
I visited Namu for the first time today and I am still processing what I saw. At the mouth of a productive salmon river, the abandoned cannery is crumbling into the ocean. The Chilcoten Princess is gone but what was left at Namu is really unbelievable.
Cleaning up the mess left in the wake of the Pacific salmon fishery of past decades will cost millions but the site needs to be decommissioned. During budget estimates this Spring, British Columbia Environment Minister Mary Polak said,
“The good news is that the site is no longer in a high-risk situation. They got rid of the vessel. They’ve moved the barrels into a safe location, so they’re no longer at risk.” (Hansard transcript, Tuesday March 1, 2016, Volume 33 Number 11, 1725)
The site is still a risk. It appears many tourists stop in there for a visit leaving only their initials scrawled on a bedroom wall. Even the Toronto Maple “Leaves” love 'em/hate 'em debate rages at Namu. The familiar “Go Lea(ves) Go” chant with “Leafs suck!” scribbled nearby, take up half the wall.
Namu remains “a high risk situation” and requires immediate attention.
According to Minister Polak some of barrels have been moved to a “safe location” but there are still leaking barrels of oil and other obvious hazards, including giant walls of asbestos and open bottles every gardener's favourite, Diazinon.
Large sections of crumbling buildings are lashed to shore with only the wiring in the walls, and the decrepit docks dangerously invite passersby into toxic, collapsing structures that all need to be removed.
I was ashamed to see a boat flying the stars and stripes, who unfortunately stumbled upon this blight while sailing the world famous inside passage.
I took this trip to recharge for the 2017 election campaign. It has been a spiritually, emotionally and physically relaxing week. Today, my political fires have been stoked.
When visiting Namu we should have to pay for a tour of the historic cannery, perhaps even watch as the glorious pacific salmon is offloaded and sent inside for processing at a working cannery.
I should be able to take my kids to a little museum there to hear about the history of the west coast salmon fishery, and what we have learned, and how that has informed the decisions we are making about the future of the industry. Salmon are a very important renewable resource, and should be a staple of a resilient British Columbia 21st century economy.
Instead, I witnessed the sad state of affairs of the fishery in western Canada and I saw a complete disregard for environmental protection at all levels. The fish are all but gone and once the industrial operator was done capitalizing the resource they were gone too, leaving British Columbians on the hook to clean up the mess. An all-too familiar story in B.C.
It took a hundred years to trash the estuary of a once productive salmon river that was a large Heiltsuk village for thousands of years before.
Minister Polak wants us to believe that the government has taken care of the matter. Far from it.This is a failure of our federal and provincial governments to regulate and enforce industrial activity. Namu does not build any public confidence in the government’s ability to responsibly manage our sensitive and exhaustible resources or protect the coast from environmental disasters such as I saw today.
There is no good reason that the Pacific salmon fishery is floundering. With proper management and the collective wisdom on the coast, we can still have a sustainable, profitable and proud wild salmon industry, governed by fair but strong regulations and the political will to ensure response and enforcement capacity are well resourced.
The government is proud to proclaim the protection of the “Great Bear Rainforest” yet hanging on the coast by a thousand copper threads is a constant reminder that cutting giant ribbons and talking tonnes of rhetoric is easy. But acting... not-so-much.
- Special thanks to Ingmar Lee for expertly guiding the boat provided by Pacific Wild.