Member of Parliament Gord Johns is pledging to bring Nuu-chah-nulth voices to Ottawa as fisheries critic. (Submitted photo)
Urging the Canadian government to “understand there’s a salmon emergency happening in coastal British Columbia” is Gord Johns’ first priority as critic for fisheries and oceans.
The Courtenay-Alberni MP has been appointed this role, along with critic for small business, tourism and economic development and as deputy-critic for Indigenous-Crown relations and Indigenous services by NDP leader Jagmeet Singh. Johns served as NDP critic for small business, tourism, veterans affairs and fisheries and oceans in the last Parliament.
“Clearly the government isn’t responding and reacting with the sense of urgency coastal people would expect when their iconic species is literally collapsing in areas on the coast,” Johns said. “We’ve seen [the federal government] suspend the commercial fishery with no compensation for the commercial fishers. People are losing their boats and their houses and the government has not rolled out their restoration funds as promised.”
Johns said it’s alarming that the government isn’t reacting with a sense of panic and urgency that he believes is needed to address the Pacific wild salmon emergency on the coast.
“The current decline and near extinction of wild salmon populations cannot be tolerated or this precious resource will go the way of the Atlantic cod,” he said. “I have asked for an urgent meeting with Bernadette Jordan, minister of Fisheries and Oceans, and will urge her to travel to Vancouver Island in the near future to hear directly from our coastal communities on this crisis.”
Johns will also continue to advocate and fight for five Nuu-chah-nulth nations’ rights to catch fish, an issue he has risen in the House of Commons for on dozens of occasions.
“We need a fishery that’s co-managed with First Nations, with local Indigenous communities. The government keeps saying they rely on local and Indigenous knowledge but they continue to open fisheries like the herring every year,” Johns said. “The government is just dragging their feet. My priority will be to ring the alarm bell.”
“I’ll be carrying [Nuu-chah-nulth people’s] concerns with respect but I’ll also make sure they’re at the table and that the government is dealing with them on a nation-to-nation basis,” he continued.
As deputy-critic for Indigenous-Crown relations and Indigenous services, Johns said he will continue to rely heavily on guidance from Nuu-chah-nulth people on issues that are important to them.
“They’ll certainly have a lot of say in developing policy in Canada,” Johns said. “The Huu-ay-aht had a huge impact on child welfare legislation in this country that just passed in the House of Commons and that was due to the fact that they are leaders in many areas.”
Johns said he believes there will be many Nuu-chah-nulth people bringing their voices, knowledge and expertise to Ottawa.
“I’ll be carrying [Nuu-chah-nulth people’s] concerns with respect but I’ll also make sure they’re at the table and that the government is dealing with them on a nation-to-nation basis,” he said. “Nuu-chah-nulth values and their expertise and their record of management on issues is second to none.”
Having a party with just 24 seats, Johns said the NDP will have a much larger workload this term, but that the party will still have a lot of influence on federal policy.
“We’re going to continue to keep the pressure on the government but this time it’s a minority government, the government needs a partner on many things to continue to govern. Even 24 seats we’re going to have a lot more influence than we did when we were 44 seats after the last government,” Johns said.
During the last parliament, Johns achieved unanimous support from all parties for resolutions on ocean plastic pollution and funding for veterans affairs and contributed to the government’s decision to reduce taxes on small businesses.
“I’m really excited to get back to Ottawa and get back to work and hugely honoured and privileged to have the support of the Nuu-chah-nulth nations and to have their strength and their confidence in me,” Johns said.
Cliff Atleo, Ahousaht’s lead fisheries negotiator, said he expects Johns will continue to provide the same level of support and communication with Nuu-chah-nulth nations.
“He’s always making sure that he stays connected with us and is well informed before he speaks on our behalf in the House,” Atleo said. “He continues to lobby directly to ministers and has always been very responsive. We could use all that we can get.”