The recent decision by the B.C. government to ban the regulated grizzly hunt to all but Indigenous hunters is a prime example of populism.
The Cambridge Dictionary defines “populism” as: Political ideas and activities that are intended to get the support of ordinary people by giving them what they want.
The ideas are often put forward in the absence of science or analysis of the long-term policy implications.
The threshold for populism is often driven by “popular support” for an idea, not because it is rational, stable or in the best interests of the resource, but because it is politically popular and in the short term will garner political support.
The issue is: Do you want your government to make the popular decision, or the rational decision? The former is driven by the public opinion, the latter by rigorous analysis of the consequences in terms of what is in the best interests of the resource and the populace.
In B.C., 78 per cent of the public, according to the government, is against the hunting of grizzly bears. But a rigorous analysis was conducted by the B.C. Auditor General and the conclusion was that hunting was not seen as a threat to grizzly bear sustainability and was considered a minor factor within the issue of larger habitat management. You can find the 74-page report, An Independent Audit of Grizzly Bear Management, at www.bcauditor.com.
The B.C. government originally made the popular decision that trophy hunting was bad, but stated that hunting for substance was permissible, including for food, social and ceremonial purposes by First Nations. The regulations to manage the trophy hunting through non-retention of bear parts were put to public consultation by the Ministry of Forest Lands Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development. From an administrative, technical, compliance and enforcement perspective, government concluded these regulations were unworkable. This was the message received both from inside and outside the government. It really didn’t matter where you sat on the debate; government tried to cut the bear in half, to nobody’s satisfaction.
Prior to a final decision on grizzly bear hunting, government was left with two choices, leave the status quo, or ban all licenced hunting of grizzly bears. Personally, I would not hunt grizzly bears. But if the hunt was sustainable, I would not impose my personal values on others to prevent them from hunting.
Populism won the day and now there is no hunt. First Nations can continue to hunt if they choose. In my view, the larger issue is this constitutionally protected right will be hollow when their fish and wildlife populations are gone. The right to gain economically from commercial uses of natural resources under the UN Declaration of Indigenous Peoples is also in question. First Nations have strong voices and can speak for themselves on how, where and why they want to engage in the grizzly bear debate.
The bottom line is the NDP government and the Green party have chosen a populist view not based on science that does not bode well for future resource management policy decisions.
Alan Martin is director of strategic initiatives at the B.C. Wildlife Federation.