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Surf clam decision stays

Jonathan Wilkinson is sworn in as federal Minister of Fisheries Wednesday at Rideau Hall in Ottawa, Ont.
Jonathan Wilkinson is sworn in as federal Minister of Fisheries Wednesday at Rideau Hall in Ottawa, Ont. - The Canadian Press

Newly minted Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson outlines his vision for Department of Fisheries and Oceans

A controversial arctic surf clam decision will not be revisited under new federal Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson.

Wilkinson became the head of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) on July 18, being shuffled into cabinet by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Wilkinson’s predecessor, now Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc, faced criticism from provincial Fisheries Minister Gerry Byrne, among others, after DFO awarded 25 per cent of the lucrative surf clam quota to a new company.

The company that received the quota — Five Nations Clam Co. — is headed by Edgar Samson, brother of Nova Scotia Liberal MP Darrell Samson.

A conflict of interest investigation is underway into LeBlanc’s awarding of the contract.

Wilkinson says the awarding of the contract was an effort to ensure Indigenous people had a share of the fishery. Previously, Nova Scotia-based Clearwater Seafoods held a monopoly on the arctic surf clam fishery in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

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“At this stage, our intention is to move forward, but as we move forward with future cases, obviously we want to ensure that we’re consulting as we make decisions that are important not only for Indigenous Canadians but all Canadians,” Wilkinson said.

“At this stage, there’s a broader discussion that’s going on in all parts of Canada around reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. Finding ways to ensure that Indigenous people can succeed as Canada succeeds. I think the discussion around this particular case was framed in the context of finding pathways to ensure that Indigenous Canadians were actually participating in the fishery on a go-forward basis.”

Wilkinson, the MP for North Vancouver, is not the first fisheries minister from British Columbia. As he begins his briefings and gets down to business in his new cabinet position, he says engaging with Atlantic Canada as a whole will be a major area of focus.

“The east coast fishery is very important, obviously. It’s a huge portion of what the Department of Fisheries and Oceans does. My responsibility clearly is to be fully engaged with the issues that are important to the folks on the east as well as the folks on the west,” he said.

“I do certainly intend to be actively in the east often, to ensure that I’m hearing the concerns and the aspirations of the people in all the Atlantic provinces. I clearly understand that my responsibility is to all Canadians, even if I represent a riding in British Columbia.”

Previous to his cabinet appointment, Wilkinson was parliamentary secretary to Environment Minister Catherine McKenna. His area of focus was how to save caribou herds across the country. Wilkinson says there’s no need to view the environment and the economy as two different things.

“I think we clearly need to be sensitive to the impacts that changes have. We do need to be guided by science, in terms of ensuring that we will have a stock going forward that will be harvestable and provide employment on a go-forward basis,” Wilkinson said.

“That doesn’t mean we ignore the impacts. We need to be thoughtful about what we do and how we do it. It means that we need to ensure that we’re looking at how we can best address impacts that do happen.”

david.maher@thetelegram.com

Twitter: DavidMaherNL

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