Lobster dispute looms over election in fishery minister's N.S. riding

·5 min read
From left: Liberal candidate Bernadette Jordan, Conservative candidate Rick Perkins, Green candidate Thomas Trappenberg, NDP candidate Olivia Dorey. (CBC - image credit)
From left: Liberal candidate Bernadette Jordan, Conservative candidate Rick Perkins, Green candidate Thomas Trappenberg, NDP candidate Olivia Dorey. (CBC - image credit)

While canvassing on a hot morning in late August, Bernadette Jordan introduced herself to a man who had just chased his dog down a quiet residential street on the outskirts of Halifax. He already knew who she was.

As the MP for South Shore-St. Margarets since 2015 — swept in on Justin Trudeau's Liberal wave that turned all of Atlantic Canada red — Jordan has become a well-known name and face in her riding.

Add to her incumbency a seat at Trudeau's cabinet table, and it could be argued she's the most high-profile federal politician in Nova Scotia.

Jordan was appointed Minister of Fisheries and Oceans after the 2019 election, and she said she's proud of what she's accomplished in that role.

Mark Crosby/CBC
Mark Crosby/CBC

But her time as fisheries minister has been marred by a dispute over Indigenous treaty rights to the lucrative lobster fishing industry.

"It was a very difficult situation," she said of the conflict that erupted last September when a Mi'kmaw band launched a new lobster fishery in Nova Scotia outside the federally regulated season.

Opposition was voiced swiftly and loudly by many non-Indigenous lobster harvesters who said everyone should fish in the same season for the sake of conserving fish stocks. Within the first month the Mi'kmaw fishery was operating, tense standoffs and protests escalated to assaults and property destruction.

The issue has gone intermittently quiet over the past year, but no long-term resolution has been reached. Jordan said in March the Mi'kmaq would have to follow federal regulations — a position that Sipekne'katik Chief Mike Sack rejected.

Sack now refuses to deal with Jordan or her office.

Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press
Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

In a recent interview with CBC, Jordan called that rift "unfortunate," but she maintains the Mi'kmaw fishery has to be regulated.

Her relationship with non-Indigenous fishers has been similarly fraught, with many blaming Jordan and the Liberal government for allowing the issue to boil over after simmering for decades.

The position she took in March is the one hoped for by commercial fish harvesters, but some expressed skepticism about enforcement.

Political opponents take aim

Some of the other candidates vying for South Shore-St. Margarets have been trying to capitalize on the dispute.

Rick Perkins, a former executive with the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation, is trying for a second time to win the one-time Conservative stronghold back for the party.

Jean Laroche /CBC
Jean Laroche /CBC

Perkins would not speak to CBC for this story, but he's made his position clear in his campaign material.

In a video he posted online last month, Perkins said the Liberals have been "attacking" the fishing industry.

"The Liberal Party is trying to shut down our fishery. The Liberal Party is not putting forward a plan so that everybody plays by the same rules in the fishery."

Meanwhile, the NDP's Olivia Dorey pointed fingers at the Liberals and Conservatives alike.

Both parties have held power at different times since the 1999 Marshall decision — the Supreme Court of Canada ruling that affirmed Indigenous hunting and fishing rights.

An addendum to that decision said Ottawa could still regulate the practices for the sake of conservation, but no government has clearly established any parameters for that regulation.

"These are communities who have interacted over hundreds of years together who are now conflicting because the federal government for my entire lifetime has failed to give them the rules that they need to go out and fish safely," Dorey said.

CBC
CBC

Dorey is the only new name on the ballot in South Shore-St. Margarets this election. The 27-year-old grew up in Nova Scotia but said she left right out of high school for Ottawa, where she spent time on Parliament Hill as a page before working in several government departments and later in the office of Geoff Regan, the House Speaker at the time.

Dorey moved back to her home province in 2019 and is now making her first political bid.

"Fisheries are always top of mind around here," she said.

And while the staple industry may be underscored in this election, it's far from the only issue candidates are hearing about on doorsteps.

Dorey and Jordan both highlighted housing affordability and health care as other common topics of concern.

Veteran Green candidate makes final bid

Unsurprisingly, Green candidate Thomas Trappenberg said his conversations on the campaign trail always wind up focusing on the environment and climate change. Sometimes it's what people want to discuss with him, sometimes he's the one directing the conversation in that direction, he said.

"[The campaign period] is the time when we have to get the other voices in, and this is why I'm here," he said.

Mark Crosby/CBC
Mark Crosby/CBC

Trappenberg said climate change seemed to be more of a pressing concern on the minds of people in his riding when he ran in 2019. He garnered nearly 12 per cent of the vote that year, which is a result he was happy with, but he said this year people's attention seems to be splintered.

Trappenberg said that's at least partly the fault of the other political parties for "trying to put our focus on [other issues]."

Between federal and provincial bids, Trappenberg has run for political office 10 times, most recently in the Nova Scotia election that overlapped with the federal election by a few days. He said this year's federal election would be his last attempt.

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