The 85th annual conference of the Alberta Fish and Game Association was held on Feb. 20 to 22 under the banner “Positively Fort McMurray — 50 Years of Conservation with the Alberta Fish and Game Association.”
Had I been physically able to attend, it would have been my 49th straight conference, but Fort Mac is just too much trip for me now, even with the kind and generous offer of a free return flight from Edmonton.
Besides feeling like family, the AFGA is Alberta’s largest and most geographically representative conservation organization, and I regard it a duty to report its annual conference doings, because they are important to my readers and Alberta’s outdoors people generally.
Last year in Red Deer, for the first time ever, the appropriate government minister, now Environment-Sustainable Resource Development, Diana McQueen, the first-ever female in the position, failed to attend to address an AFGA conference. McQueen was not seen, but was heard and found wanting through her speech ably delivered by Red Deer North MLA Mary Anne Jablonski.
I particularly wanted to attend to hear, and take the measure of yet another new minister this year, Hon Robin Campbell, MLA for West Yellowhead who, early in December, was cabinet-shuffled from minister of Aboriginal Relations to take over as our new ESRD minister.
Some informed observers worried that Campbell might tend away from environmental protection because of the years he worked in the coal business, including as president of the local of the United Mine Workers of America.
On the upside, many outdoors people are encouraged that the new minister is not only an avid and accomplished angler and guide, but also something of an anglers’ activist, having lobbied hard to rationalize and neutralize some of the more obtuse federal parks regulations.
He is also highly regarded for his work in the Aboriginal Relations portfolio.
I have to be somewhat of a fan, just because of the way the minister’s office emailed me his notes virtually as he was delivering the speech in Fort Mac, and then Campbell himself gave me a phone interview after his address to the AFGA delegates and the minister’s Friday noon luncheon were over.
As expected, the speech was boilerplate for a minister just two months into his new portfolio. But, unlike some new ministers in the same position, he showed a grasp of the sustainable resource side of his new department and its historic symbiotic relationship with the AFGA. The minister and some of his staff met with the AFGA executive prior to the speech and two executive members told me the minister “demonstrated a deeper understanding of the issues and who we are than could come from mere staff briefings.”
Early on in his speech, Campbell assured delegates that “Alberta’s natural resources and environment have been important to me for years — long before I entered politics, in fact.” Then Campbell took considerable time dealing with the importance of the current regional plan process, particularly the Lower Athabasca and the South Saskatchewan Regional Plans, the latter of which “puts emphasis on conservation — to help protect headwaters, conserve sensitive lands and manage species at risk,” he said.
The minister played his cards close to his chest in the speech: no bold promises to battle for more money for his department, no mention of more conservation officers in the field, certainly nothing about public land belonging to the public, as his short-term predecessor twice-removed, Frank Oberg, did.
In our telephone interview, the minister said he was expecting no budget cut, perhaps even a modest increase, and that he did have some ideas about putting “helpful” officers in the field.
I asked Campbell some questions pertaining to this quote, from his speech notes: “The three-decades-old Fish and Wildlife Policy for Alberta is being revised and we are pooling multiple regulations into one standard set . . . We’ve heard from you about the abundance and complexity of fisheries regulations — and now we will be streamlining and simplifying those regulations to better serve Albertans.”
I got the distinct impression in the interview that this new minister wants to get back to scientifically-sound management fish and wildlife policies that lead toward better outdoors experiences for Albertans, particularly kids.
He mentioned the problems the anti-angler, anti-non-native fish National Parks policies and regulations are causing to fishermen. Campbell believes that fishing is one of the best things anyone — particularly kids — can do, and that it is being taken away from them in our National Parks, particularly in Jasper.
This will all be encouraging news for Dr. Darryl Smith, kid-fishing mentor and AFGA fish committee chairman, who has seen similar angler-unfriendly policies appearing in Alberta, and a cooling of ESRD government biologists’ initial enthusiasm for the hard work he has been doing toward simplification and shortening of Alberta’s 96-pages of draconian Sportfishing Regulations.
Bob Scammell is an award-winning columnist who lives in Red Deer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.