Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Ghosts of the Salmon War of 1997 make for a TransMountain narrative for the Legislature

The blockade of the Alaska Ferry Malaspinai n 1997  has been used as a
cautionary tale as part of the Trans Mountain debate

(photo from Vancouver Sun Library)

Since the return of our elected MLA's to the Legislature following their Spring break, the controversy swirling around the NDP government's handling of the TransMountain dispute with Alberta and the Federal government has made for a dominating theme for debate.

The theme came up again on April 16th as part of the discussion related to a Private Members Motion from MLA Peter Milobar, with the Liberal's Kamloops Area MLA call for the Government of British Columbia to engage with the Federal Government and that of Alberta to resolve the current impasse.

Last week, Prince George - Mackenzie Liberal MLA Mike Morris, took the Legislature on a history tour, travelling back in time to a dispute that went even beyond national boundaries, with the MLA putting a focus on the Salmon War dispute at Prince Rupert's AMHS Fairview Ferry Terminal, when a number of the boats from the Prince Rupert salmon fleet surrounded the Alaska Ferry Malaspina.

It's a historical note from the North Coast that you can explore some of the contributing factors from that time below:

Canada Salmon war on two fronts
The Salmon War
Canadians End Blockade in Salmon Fishing Dispute
Pacific Salmon: The Canada-United States dispute
Fish Wars have created a real stink between the U.S. and Canada
The last time a B.C. NDP premier challenged Federal authority, he lost horribly
Alaska/Canada Salmon 'War' was 10 years ago

The theme of those days of the summer of is also explored quite well through the Book Salmon Wars by  Dennis Brown which has been a critically acclaimed review of the situation.

The local response was related to issues between the Alaskan and British Columbia fishery of the time (with echoes that continue to this day) and delivered ramifications that almost resulted in the end of the Alaska Ferry Service to Prince Rupert, as well as concerns for other bilateral issues between Canada and the American state.

In the case of the Prince George MLA, Morris at the time was the District Officer for the RCMP for the entire Northern region and the task of keeping the peace and seeking a resolution to the impasse or making plans for any instructions from the government fell to his office and his team and from that viewpoint he delivered his address last week, turning his narrative into a cautionary tale when it comes to the TransMountain dispute.

My interest was piqued by my colleague from Cariboo-Chilcotin when she talked about the salmon war from the late 1990s, 1998. At that particular time, I was the district officer for the RCMP looking after the northern three-quarters of the province. 

So I’ve got some pretty intimate knowledge of that entire file — how it started and how it ended. The ripple effects — and I’ll use that file as an example — caused considerable consternation for our federal government, for the provincial government, although they were very absent from the table during the critical time that the Alaska ferry was blocked by over 1,500 fish boats in Prince Rupert. 

Can you imagine the resources that it would take the RCMP to enforce the injunction and the enforcement order that the courts had provided for us to free the Alaskan ferry and all of the passengers that were on board? 

 This extended not only to the citizens of Prince Rupert in British Columbia but to the American citizens that were trapped on that Alaska ferry. I had to bring in extra resources from across the province, from a policing perspective, in order to do that. I had some excellent help. Because we had 1,400 fish boats at stake here, I had to bring in the Canadian Coast Guard and the federal Fisheries to find enough qualified people to run those boats in the event that we had to physically seize those particular boats. 

 I have to take my hat off to the cool heads that prevailed, the people that were organizing that event, because a couple of times it did start to take off. After three days of negotiating with the federal government — and I was in the centre of this — the governor of Alaska…. British Columbia was absent from the table. I heard nothing from the Premier or the government of the day at that particular time. 

We were able to negotiate a peaceful resolution where the fish boats finally hauled anchor, and they left the scene. The impact that we saw from that transcended down for years after that with some of the fish boats in contradiction or in conflict with a lot of the U.S. area that they fished in.

Mike Morris the Liberal MLA for Prince George-Mackenzie
recalled the days of the Salmon War of 1997 as an
example for consideration as part of theTransMountain debate

The Prince George MLA recounted his time at the helm of the province's Northern policing district to call attention to the kind of resources that could be required should events get carried away as the events related to the Kinder Morgan dispute continue to escalate.

Morris drew parallels to a lack of clear guidance from the provincial government of the time, and found similar issues of concern to him over the way he sees the current NDP government's approach to the issue.

We see that today with Burnaby — Burnaby Mountain — and the Kinder Morgan protests that we have here. Burnaby is not autonomous. Burnaby is part of this great confederation that we call Canada and British Columbia. Burnaby is refusing to pay policing costs. We hear this government has been very silent. 

I’m amazed at the silence that this government exhibits as these people hold the court order in criminal contempt by continually violating the terms of that injunction that prevents people from going into specified areas. It’s cost probably an extra $1 million over the last year or so for extra policing resources to go in and deal with the protests, to make sure that everything is peaceful. Police officers have been hurt in the ordeal. Burnaby has refused to pay those policing costs. 

 Another rippling effect of this protest and this resistance against confederation in Canada is the fact that B.C. taxpayers have been picking up the tab for a municipality that is encumbered by the municipal police service agreement in British Columbia to pay those costs but is refusing to pay the costs. So here we are, sharing that million-dollar bill amongst British Columbians. 

 How big will that get before the provincial government steps in and says: “Listen, ladies and gentlemen, please keep a calm head here”? 

Let’s work collectively with the federal government and the provincial government in order to ensure that these kinds of issues don’t escalate. We are part of a confederation. We are part of this great country that we call Canada, and it requires all of the provinces to work collectively together to ensure that the industries in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and right across Canada have access to the Pacific gateway, have access to what we have here.

The tone of discussion between both the Liberals and the NDP and Green Party in the House serves to provide for a clear divide on the issue among the parties of the Legislature.

With the Liberals taking every opportunity in the House day in and day out to hammer away at their message that the government's handling of the issue is sewing some bitter emotions that may be hard to address once the controversy passes which ever way that may fall.

Last week's review of the Salmon War of 1997 and other associated themes can be found from the archive pages of the Legislature here, starting at just after 11:30AM, the video of the speech can be viewed below:

You can follow much of that debate through our political portal D'Arcy McGee which tracks the news out of Victoria on a daily basis.

For items of note related to the North Coast and Skeena ridings see our Legislature Archive page here.

To return to the most recent blog posting of the day, click here.

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