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Less than two in five British Columbians trust industry on fishing, coastal issues, says poll

Meanwhile, polling shows that trust in the federal department responsible for coastal matters is high.
More than three in five British Columbians are “extremely” or “very” concerned about declining fish stocks and open-net fish farms

For the past few months, a couple of trends have become evident in British Columbia. While many voters are dissatisfied with issues such as housing, the economy and health care, their animosity is directed primarily at the federal government and not at provincial or municipal administrations. 

In early September, the federal Conservative Party held an 11-point lead over the Liberal Party in B.C. The gap should not be surprising. In this century, the Liberals have only finished in first place in this province in the federal election of 2015 – the one that gave Justin Trudeau his only majority mandate.

There are other numbers worth exploring. The approval rating for Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre rose to 51 per cent in British Columbia, significantly higher than what is observed for Trudeau (35 per cent), New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Jagmeet Singh (43 per cent), Green Party leader Elizabeth May (27 per cent) and People’s Party leader Maxime Bernier (20 per cent).

When Research Co. asked British Columbians about 11 issues facing the economic future of coastal communities, five were deemed the most important: Marine conservation (93 per cent), renewable energy (86 per cent), outdoor recreation (82 per cent), small-scale community fisheries (83 per cent) and ecotourism (79 per cent). Industrial-scale commercial fishing (69 per cent), fish farming (64 per cent) and deep-sea mining (44 per cent) garnered the lowest levels of importance.

A similar scenario ensues when British Columbians ponder potential threats to the coast and coastal communities. More than three in five are “extremely” or “very” concerned about declining fish stocks (68 per cent), open-net fish farms (64 per cent), bottom trawling (63 per cent) and climate change (61 per cent). Only 31 per cent feel the same way about excessive government restrictions on fishing and marine harvesting. 

The concept of a network of marine protected areas representing approximately 30 per cent of waters in the Northern Shelf Bioregion, stretching from the middle of Vancouver Island to the Alaska border, is welcomed by practically four in five (79 per cent), while only nine per cent are opposed. 

Discussions about environmental protection usually see drastic fluctuations depending on the federal political allegiances of respondents. On marine protected areas, this is not the case. Support for this proposed network encompasses significant majorities of British Columbians who are currently thinking of voting for the Greens (88 per cent), the NDP (also 88 per cent), the Liberals (87 per cent) or the Conservatives (78 per cent) in the next federal election.

In a province that is currently dissatisfied with Ottawa, trust in the federal department responsible for coastal matters is high. Across the province, 61 per cent of respondents have “a lot” or “some” confidence in Fisheries and Oceans Canada as a source of information when it comes to marine protected areas. This is slightly higher than trust in the provincial government (54 per cent) and local First Nations communities (also 54 per cent). 

Scientists and environmental organizations are at the top of the list with the highest confidence rating to discuss marine protected areas (77 per cent and 67 per cent, respectively). Conversely, fewer than two in five British Columbians trust the fishing industry (39 per cent), the salmon farming industry (32 per cent) or fishing companies (32 per cent). 

The results of this survey outline a challenge for the Conservative Party, as well as for the individuals who may seek its nominations in the next federal election. The message of removing red tape may win over voters who are tired of inaction and poor communication between various levels of government. The data shows that it is not particularly welcome on coastal issues in B.C.

Right now, most British Columbians are overwhelmingly supportive of establishing a marine protected area, and want its creation to be guided by scientists, environmentalists and Fisheries and Oceans Canada. “Excessive government restrictions” is one of the last things on their mind.

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.

Results are based on an online study conducted from Oct. 31 to Nov. 8, 2023, among 1,603 adults in B.C. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region in B.C. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.