Standing with Commercial Fishers Dougald Lamont, Manitoba Liberal Leader & MLA St. Boniface
May 19, 2021 Question Period
MB Liberals ask Ombudsman to Investigate PCs Preferential Treatment of Bureaucrat’s former Employer May 19, 2021
May 19, 2021
Treaty 1 Territory, Métis Homeland, Winnipeg, MB - Manitoba Liberals have submitted a complaint to the Manitoba Ombudsman to investigate whether the senior officials in the Department of Agriculture and Resource Development have been giving preferential treatment to the Manitoba Wildlife Federation (MWF) - an organization whose former Managing Director, Rob Olson, is now the Executive Director of the Wildlife and Fisheries Branch in Agriculture and Resource Development.
Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said the concerns are derived from a number of complaints across Manitoba about the MWF, including from the Pioneer Commercial Fishers of Manitoba (PCFM), as well as articles in which the MWF boast of having "Influential Friends" because the organization's former president works in government.
"You have people in the MWF, who aren't registered as lobbyists, boasting that since the department is run by their buddy, they can pick up the phone and get whatever they want, while other Manitobans are being driven out of business by the same decisions," said Lamont. "We are asking the Ombudsman to investigate whether the department is being run for the sake of a private interest group, because that is not acceptable."
The policies the MWF have pushed, listed below, have often been controversial. Other stakeholders, especially Commercial Fishers, say they have been hurt by them, and are being cut out from consultations, despite an explicit commitment from former Minister Rochelle Squires on November 28, 2018, not to make any changes without consultation.
"The quota buy back that was implemented is nothing short of racist when you blatantly paid less per pound of fish for those who work in the northern communities and reserves compared to those fishing in the south," said Einar Sveinson, PCFM President. "The way Mr. Pedersen and the department handles themselves is a clear sign that you have zero interest in our commercial fishing industry on Lake Winnipeg unless it is to put us out of business and disrupt our traditional way of making a living."
A Meyers Norris Penny study commissioned by PCFM showed that Manitoba's Commercial Fishing industry is worth $90 million directly and triple that indirectly, but that they can't get a meeting with the Government, despite a promise from former Minister of Sustainable Development, Rochelle Squires,
Manitoba Liberals say three of the most controversial are:
A quota buy-back program that the fishers say discriminates against Indigenous fishers in the north: the Province of Manitoba is paying less per pound of fish for those who work in the northern communities and reserves compared to those fishing in the south. Northern communities are getting $4/lbs, the middle channel $5/lbs and the Southern communities $6/lbs. A decision to change mesh sizes for fishing, which fishers have argued is more likely to harm breeding stocks. In March, the Government of Manitoba started a pilot project that allows the MWF to take over former wildlife management areas and convert them to pasture, rent-free for five years - even as the same department has hiked rents and is evicting established ranchers from Crown Lands. Rob Olson was the Managing Director of the Manitoba Wildlife Federation (MWF) until 2017.
In an article in Outdoor Canada, the "favourable" relationship is described in detail, under a headline "Manitoba: Influential Friends".
"Having allies in key positions in the Manitoba government is proving to be a boon for the Manitoba Wildlife Federation when it comes to its goals and initiatives... "Now, instead of writing a letter, we're picking up a phone and saying 'Hey, this is what's going on" and they're giving us a bunch of leeway to come up with a solution."
"Thanks to such connections, the MWF has recently achieved goals such as the first round of quota buy backs from commercial fishermen on Lake Winnipeg, as well as the implementation of minimum mesh sizes... We got those changes made, and part of that is the minister allowing up to collaborate and work with his guys to make it happen."
The article goes on to describe the MWF taking Minister Blaine Pedersen and his staff fishing, followed by a fish fry, along with Rob Olson. Neither the MWF nor Chris Heald are part of Manitoba's lobbyist registry.
"In this pandemic, the Pallister government has taken it upon itself to pick and choose who gets to work, and who gets to operate a business. It is no time to play favourites," said Lamont. "This government needs to give every Manitoban a fair hearing and fair treatment."
Honourable Blaine Pedersen Minister of Agriculture and Resource Development Room 165 Legislative Building 450 Broadway Winnipeg, Manitoba R3C 0V8
Dear Honourable Blaine Pedersen,
We are writing this letter with grave concern for our commercial fishing industry on Lake Winnipeg. The fishers of Lake Winnipeg have tried numerous times to come to the table to discuss our industry and gain some understanding as to why you, Mr. Pedersen and the Manitoba Wildlife Federation (MWF), are trying to take our livelihoods away and end our traditional way of life.
The Pioneer Commercial Fishers of Manitoba (PCFM) was created to replace the former Lake Winnipeg Co-Management board, which was dissolved because of lack of consultation from the government with the fishers. There is some confusion as to why you don’t reach out to the PCFM, as we represent every area on the lake with the exception of two communities. Our PCFM board has worked closely with the AMC Grand Chief Arlen Dumas. We have reached out and tried to get a meeting with Mr. Pedersen’s department Agriculture and Resource Development (ARD) with no success.
It is evident, based on all newsletters and magazine articles from the Manitoba Wildlife Federation (MWF) that they have a direct line and an open door policy with your department to implement changes that suit them and their agendas. We find it very disturbing that Chris Heald (Executive Director of MWF) publishes in an article and we quote him directly “every time you had an issue, you wrote a letter to the minister or the premier and you waited the standard three months to get a reply from a bureaucrat.” This is exactly what happens when the PCFM writes a letter to the minister. Even more disturbing it goes on to say in the same article and we quote “now instead of writing a letter, we’re picking up the phone and saying hey this is what’s going on and they’re giving us a bunch of leeway to come up with a solution.” How is there different treatment between two different groups? We believe we know the answer. In the same article Heald goes on to say with former MWF managing director Rob Olson now the head of the province’s Fish and Wildlife department, gives the federation a built in ally. How fishy is that? Sure makes it look like the MWF is running the department instead of an elected official on behalf of all citizens.
The Grand Chief and our PCFM board can’t get a response to arrange a meeting, but it is highlighted regularly that MWF has your full support. In another article, of course by the MWF, you have hours to dedicate to accompany Kevin Casper index netting with Carly Deacon, Managing Director of MWF. Then after the index netting, you have more time to go angling with Carly Deacon, Chris Heald and Rob Olson. Then after fishing, you have even more time to spend with all these heavy players from the MWF by joining them for a fish fry. We find it very disturbing that you have all this time for the MWF. We can’t even get a meeting with you, for an industry involving hundreds and hundreds of families around our lake that is their livelihoods, not just a recreational past time.
We find it very concerning that the PC government had a meeting with us in Gimli, just before the election, and the Deputy Premier at the time, Heather Stefanson, advised us that we had nothing to worry about. We were promised no changes (mesh size) were to be made to our industry until our stock study analysis was completed by A/ORFC (completed by way of a third party grant in aid of research). In that same meeting, Jeff Wharton and Derek Johnson were present and stated that the “whole department needs a shake up.” That was said after we explained the proposed changes to them and showed them all of the MWF articles that show the conflict of interest in the ARD office. The promise made to us was very clear and the PC government was even more impressed that we took the initiative to pay for these studies out of the fishermen’s own pocket. We also completed a MNP (Meyers Norris Penny) economic impact report to prove that our industry is worth 90 million directly and triple that indirectly.
Why would the government put our livelihoods and traditional way of providing for our families and communities in jeopardy? We are all in the middle of a Covid-19 world wide pandemic when food sources and peoples income’s need to be protected.
The quota buy back that was implemented is nothing short of racist when you blatantly paid less per pound of fish for those who work in the northern communities and reserves compared to those fishing in the south. What would be the logical reasoning with offering such a drastic difference in prices between Northern communities ($4/lbs), the middle channel ($5/lbs) and the Southern communities ($6/lbs)? Creating a disadvantage in pricing does the exact opposite of creating equity for these communities. The northern reserves and coops are now suffering because of quota that has left their communities and been retired forever creating less job opportunity and income. How your department came up with quota prices is beyond us.
Our PCFM board has taken the high road and done your job for you. It was proved through the A/OFRC stock study analyses that there was a less than 1% chance we over fished the pickerel population in 2019. When you made all of these crippling changes to our industry, with the quota buy backs and the mesh size change, we welcomed anybody to peer review the A/OFRC study conducted and presented it to you, with no response. It seems the ARD department would rather put their heads in the sand and continue pushing the MWF’s agenda.
The entire ARD department is looking like it’s run by the MWF and has got to be one of the biggest conflicts of interest happening in this province. How does the managing director of MWF (Rob Olson) in 2017 go from that position directly to Deputy Minister of Sustainable Development (ARD) without declaring a conflict of interest? Then how does Rob Olson get promoted to Executive Director overseeing the Fish and Wildlife Enforcement Branches? The fishers on Lake Winnipeg are having their livelihoods taken away by Rob Olson who seems to be judge, jury and executioner with his job title. In our opinion, Sustainable Development or ARD now, should never have accepted somebody like Rob Olson who was so closely tied to a special interest group to assume the positions he has. If it was a political appointment, why wouldn’t Rob Olson have gone into a different department so that there was no conflict? This is controversial how the MWF has taken over a government department. It is our belief this wouldn’t be allowed to happen even in Russia. All information here about the MWF is taken out of their own articles and newsletters.
Our one meeting that we did have with Mr. Pedersen and his department, you might recall that we pleaded our case that the lake was healthy and there was no reason for these crippling changes. This seemingly all fell on deaf ears and the insulting response we got was Elliot Brown rolling his eyes and scoffing at everything us fishers and the Grand Chief, Arlen Dumas had to say. Is this unprofessional behavior how your department lets somebody climb the ladder with a promotion to Assistant Deputy Minister? Can we not learn from what happened in Nova Scotia? Is this ARD department going to accept it when this happens in our own province with our fishers?
The way Mr. Pedersen and the department handles themselves is a clear sign that you have zero interest in our commercial fishing industry on Lake Winnipeg unless it is to put us out of business and disrupt our traditional way of making a living. This has become even more clear to us how the MWF writes how they control all of the decisions that are being made in the ARD Department. Clearly your decisions only have personal or crooked intentions for that of the MWF. The fact that you have stake holder meetings that only involve angling interest groups and totally ignore our PCFM board is highly concerning to our industry and begs the question of your ability to lead for all citizens’ best interests. It seems very one sided, with the pendulum swinging only towards the MWF. Attached are some supporting articles to back up everything we have stated. We are asking you, once again, to reconsider all of these crippling changes that happened to our industry that were conducted by your ARD Department based on misguided information and flawed data. The misguided information and flawed data is a whole other conversation that we would like to discuss in a meeting.
The commercial fishers on Lake Winnipeg are hard working, proud, multigenerational fishers who have never asked for anything but to be supported in their mission by their government. We ask to preserve our traditional way of life and be acknowledged as a stakeholder as we greatly represent Lake Winnipeg with vast knowledge and have much to offer. We anticipate our involvement with your department to help work towards resolving these issues. As stated at the beginning of our letter, it would be nice to be treated the same as the MWF and have a direct line. As that is not available to us, it would be nice to not wait “the standard three months to get a reply from a bureaucrat” as Chris Heald said about your department before their direct line.
Letter to Federal Deputy Minister Timothy Sargent , Department of Fisheries and Oceans April 24th , 2020 Letter sent on behalf of the Pioneer Commercial Fishers of Manitoba with regards to the impact on the commercial fishing season due to COVID-19 pandemic. As well as support letters from industry processors.
Letter to Provincial Minister Blaine Pedersen April 20th, 2020 Letter sent on behalf of the Pioneer Commercial Fishers of Manitoba [PCFOM]. The contents of the letter reflect the concerns expressed by the PCFOM Board. At issue is the mesh size change which raised the minimum mesh size on the South Basin and Channel areas of Lake Winnipeg from 3” to 3 1/2”.
Pioneer Commercial Fishers of Manitoba is Born Manitoba (May 21, 2019) Pioneer Commercial Fishers of Manitoba (PCFM) was created by Lake Winnipeg commercial Fishers in order to replace the former Co-Management Board. This new organization will be expanding to offer membership to all Manitoba commercial fishers but the initial undertaking is to represent Lake Winnipeg fishers as currently they are in a desperate position to ensure they continue to exist in a manner that does not cause fatal financial harm to the industry or the many Manitoba communities dependent on the industry.
Mission: Together we are committed to ensure the sustainability of the commercial fishing industry in Manitoba.
Vision: We intend to ensure the commercial fishing industry of Manitoba continue to flourish and is available to be passed down to families for decades to come. This industry is a vital part of Manitoba’s economy and as such creates thousands of jobs and is in large part a major foundation for many of our rural communities
“We are very optimistic that our new organization will be working directly with stakeholders to outline fact-based third-party evidence that will highlight what is really happening in lake Winnipeg and the true value and commitment our Industry brings to Manitoba.” said Einar Sveinson, President PCFM.
This organization is eager to work collaboratively to ensure the sustainability of the lake, industry and communities dependent. There are thousands of jobs directly and indirectly that are impacted by changes to the industry therefore consultation must occur on a larger scale and decisions must be made with facts that are not driven by one side of the argument.
We feel all parties are driven to work together with the common goal to preserve the lake for future generations, but that kind of collaboration means equal representation and constant communication which previously was not occurring through the Co-Management board.
The above goals will be accomplished by undertaking the following activities:
Continue with the Commission research in relation to the lakes eco-system and the MNP report on economic impact of the industry both directly and indirectly
Work towards a new working group with Government that ensures equal representation and fact-based discussion
Educate the public and speak with one voice in relation to the industry
May 6, 2019 PROVINCE INTRODUCES NEW MEASURES TO ENSURE SUSTAINABILITY OF LAKE WINNIPEG FISHERY New Mesh Sizes, Transparency of Science: Squires
The Manitoba government has completed a successful round of quota buy-back from commercial fishers on Lake Winnipeg and based on the results of recent consultations, will implement new minimum mesh sizes for commercial fishers and new limits on the size of fish that can be kept by anglers to help ensure the long-term sustainability of the Lake Winnipeg fishery, Sustainable Development Minister Rochelle Squires announced today.
"Our government is committed to ensuring the sustainability of both the commercial and recreational fisheries while providing a strong foundation for shared management of our natural resources," Squires said. "In order to ensure the sustainability of our lakes and support long-term economic growth, we must recognize and respect the science as part of our decision-making process."
In March, the province announced the option of voluntary individual quota entitlement buyback for commercial fishers designed to relieve pressure on fish stocks in Lake Winnipeg. hat buyback is now complete and the province was able to come to terms for the purchase of 126 individual quota entitlements from 90 fishers, representing almost 525,000 kilograms offish. The total value of quota sold back to the province is almost $5.5 million. Fishers were paid $4 dollars per pound for north basin quota, $5 per pound for channel quota and $6 per pound for South Basin quota.
The province has consulted with commercial fishers and will be implementing a new minimum mesh size of three and one-half inches (in.) in the South Basin and channel areas, beginning with the spring 2020 commercial fishing season. The original consultation proposal was a minimum mesh size of three and three-quarter in. to take effect in fall 2019. The minimum mesh size and timing of these changes is a result of recent consultations and input from commercial fishers and industry stakeholders.
There will be no change to the current three and three-quarter in. minimum mesh size on the north basin. Changes will be implemented for anglers as well. Starting April 1, 2020, a walleye or sauger must be a minimum length of 35 centimetres to be kept if they are caught in Lake Winnipeg, the Winnipeg River below the Pine Falls dam, Red River below the Lockport Dam or Saskatchewan River below the Grand Rapids dam.
These changes will allow a greater proportion of smaller fish to grow to spawning size and increase the overall natural productivity of the lake. The impact of these changes to the walleye and sauger populations will be monitored through the province's annual Lake Winnipeg index-netting program as well as new survey work to be conducted on the Red River.
In addition, the province has committed to share the underlying data on fish stock and will begin by making provincial index-netting data available to stakeholders online, as part of continuing work to develop a shared management model for the Lake Winnipeg fishery.