Canada's True Conservationists: Prime Minister Harper Speaks to the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters

Mississauga, Ontario
21 March 2009


Good evening ladies and gentlemen.

Thank you for your warm welcome. I’d like to acknowledge my fellow parliamentarians who are with us tonight, Dean Del Mastro, Larry Miller, Bob Dechert and the Honourable Peter Van Loan.

And thank you Mike Reader for your generous introduction, as well as for the invitation to address the 81st annual meeting and conference of the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters.

A lot has changed since we last met in 2005. As Prime Minister, I now have the use of a nice cottage on Harrington Lake near Ottawa. One of my predecessors, the great John Diefenbaker, stocked it with fish. And I’m pleased to report that thanks to some time spent with Defence Minister Peter Mackay, I am doing some fishing myself. My spin casting has modestly improved, though I’m still living proof that there’s a big difference between fishing and catching.

I’ve also had the opportunity to do a little bit of canoeing on the lake. I mention this because it was recently brought to my attention that the late, great Canadian writer, Pierre Berton, once famously claimed a real Canadian is someone who knows how to make love in a canoe. Now I think of myself as a real Canadian … I just prefer to say that I’m not much of a canoeist.

But it is always a pleasure for me to visit with Canadians who appreciate fishing, canoeing, hunting – the great Canadian outdoors – and all the tradition these things represent.

You are living the experiences of early Canadian life – of Aboriginal life certainly – but also experiences that drove the early exploration and economic development of our country.

In a very real way, the Canadian wilderness and our relationship to it has always defined us as a nation. It’s the inspiration for our cultural icons: the maple leaf, the beaver, the polar bear, the Canada goose.

The explorers and adventurers who mapped and tamed it –
like Champlain, Mackenzie, and Thompson – are giants of our history.

And the authors and artists we admire most are those who best capture our relationship with the True North.

Ladies and gentlemen, one of the best things about being Prime Minister of Canada -- the best job in the world’s best country – is that I have an unparalleled opportunity to travel the length and breadth of our vast territory.

And from Nahanni to Nunavut, from Labrador to Vancouver Island, I’ve met with Canadians who work, play and live
on the land.

All this travel has reinforced my view that the heart of Canada is in the countryside. The timeless values of rural life – strong family bonds, community interdependence, a close relationship to the natural environment – these are the foundational characteristics of our country. And the qualities that sustain our peaceful, prosperous society to this day.

With the urbanization and technology of our modern society, too many of us are growing too distant from our land, our history and our traditions. This can lead to lack of appreciation for the role that anglers and hunters play in preserving and protecting wildlife and its habitat.

For example, one of Canada’s earliest and greatest conservationists was Jack Miner, from Kingsville, near the west end of Lake Erie. In the early 20th century, Miner pioneered bird-banding to learn their migratory habits. He also created one of the first bird sanctuaries in North America.

He became world-renowned as an author, speaker and conservationist. Less well known is that the fact that Miner was also a lifelong hunter, and a very prolific one at that.

He understood a simple truth: That without conservation there can be no hunting. Or fishing, or logging, or farming or any other activity involving renewable resources.

But Miner believed more than that: That these pastimes could make us better citizens.

They teach practicality, resourcefulness and self-reliance, qualities that allow people to be successful, to provide for their families and to give back to their communities.

And, of course, to see, to experience, to appreciate the incredible beauty and diversity of our land.

Few of our citizens appreciate, or do as much for the great Canadian outdoors as the members of organizations like this.
We’re not just talking about conserving wilderness and wildlife.
We’re also talking about conserving the traditions, values, and love of country that form the sturdy foundation on which Canadian society has been built.

It’s also no accident, as I told you four years ago, that the words conservation and Conservative are derived from the same root. A Conservative is a conservationist.

We want to conserve a balance between environmental protection and economic growth. We want to conserve strong families in healthy, safe, self-reliant communities and, of course, we believe, fundamentally, that we have a duty to make Canada better by conserving and adding to what our ancestors have built for us.

A duty to build an economy that provides opportunity for all, a duty to manage public finances in a way that allows us to respond in times of crisis without saddling our children and grandchildren with unmanageable debt, or higher taxes, a duty to make our streets safe and our country secure, a duty to defend our interests and project our values on the world stage.

One of the things our Government has been doing in this regard is rebuilding our Canadian Forces, giving them the equipment they need and the respect they deserve. We ask a lot of them. Successive governments have asked them to undertake an important and dangerous role in the United Nations-sanctioned mission to Afghanistan.

The news of the deaths of four young soldiers yesterday reminds us once again of the sacrifices these people make, and that military men and women have made historically to give us what we have today.

We send our heartfelt condolences to their families and comrades, and we stand in awe and eternal remembrance of their devotion to their fellow human beings and to our country.

As Conservatives, we also believe we have a duty to protect Canada’s natural environment for the benefit of future generations.

That’s why our government has made conservation such a high priority over the last three years. We have, for example, expanded the boundaries of the spectacular Nahanni Park in the Northwest Territories.

We have created the Lake Superior national marine conservation area, the largest freshwater marine protected area in the world.

We have provided substantial support for the preservation of the Great Bear Rain Forest in beautiful British Columbia, and we have entered into partnership with the Nature Conservancy of Canada and groups like Ducks Unlimited to conserve a half million acres of ecologically significant land all across the country.

Let me just add that Ducks Unlimited deserves tremendous credit for the outstanding work they’ve been doing for decades to conserve and improve waterfowl habitat in this country. This is work that has served as tangible proof to Canadians that hunting and conservation go hand in hand.

More recently, our Government made a substantial contribution to the Lake Simcoe clean-up fund, in support of two projects led by this Federation to fight invasive species and improve streams within the watershed.

This month we introduced the Environmental Enforcement Bill in Parliament. We will beef up our enforcement capacity and prescribe appropriate penalties against those businesses who engage in serious acts of pollution and environmental wreckage.

We’ve also announced upgrades to the Trent-Severn waterway, as well as the Government’s support for the designation of the Ottawa River as a Canadian Heritage River.

You may have noticed a common thread running through these initiatives. They’re designed to encourage Canadians to enjoy our great outdoors. Our predecessors in government tended to do just the opposite. Their approach often seemed designed to fence us out, to limit activity in our parks, to discourage hunting and fishing, and to cut off our access to wilderness and wildlife.

In short, to conserve nature from us, instead of conserving nature for us.

That is the difference in the Conservative philosophy: Nature is not to be protected against people who appreciate the outdoors; it is to be protected for us.

Our predecessors’ philosophy was reflected in their actions. For example, as you know, they pushed versions of the Species at Risk and Cruelty to Animals Acts that appealed to ivory-tower theorists, but reflected little or no appreciation of the contributions hunters and anglers make to conservation, or indeed, of rural life generally.

Our Government believes strongly that people who depend on our land and natural resources for their livelihoods or recreation should be recognized for their contributions to our environment.

This Federation’s proposed legislation recognizing Canada’s recreational hunting and fishing heritage, and enshrining the rights and responsibilities of hunters and anglers, is a positive idea in this direction. We are reviewing your proposal, and are giving it serious consideration.

We also appreciate your tremendous work on the Lake Ontario Atlantic Salmon restoration program. And I am pleased to inform you that, just yesterday, our Government and the Federation signed an agreement that will strengthen and broaden our partnership in this noble endeavour.

Our collaboration on issues like these reflects some shared values. It contrasts sharply with the misguided philosophy of our predecessors, which was no better demonstrated than by their approach to criminal justice.

Rather than going after criminals who use guns, including hand guns and illegal weapons, to commit violent acts, they targeted the government’s resources at law-abiding citizens who own long-guns for occupational or recreational reasons.

Their approach here was the same as their approach to environmental issues: They know best and ordinary Canadians can’t be trusted.

So, instead of action on crime, we got the federal long-gun registry, which became a bloated bureaucratic nightmare for responsible hunters, farmers and rural Canadians.

It cost taxpayers some $2 billion. And it hasn’t done a thing to reduce gun crime.

As you know, ever since our Government came to office, our focus has been on prosecuting real gun criminals, not law-abiding hunters.

We have made a tremendous effort to bring Canadians together on the issue of gun control. Under our predecessors, the debate was unnecessarily divisive. Recreational hunters, farmers and others were demonized.

The issue was unfairly and inaccurately portrayed as a conflict between urban and rural Canadians. And the registration of law-abiding hunters and farmers was unfairly and inaccurately portrayed as the solution to crime in our cities.

We know from 14 years of experience this is manifestly untrue.

Much else can and must be done to defeat gun crime in Canada. But the long-gun registry has nothing to do with this goal.

While we clean up the mess left by our predecessors, we have extended the amnesty for long-gun owners who have yet to register. And we are looking to unite a majority of MPs in repealing the long-gun registry.

The leaders of the opposition parties continue to be against this. But there are MPs in all these parties who know what we know – that law-abiding hunters and farmers are not part of the crime problem, and that you should be respected, not demonized.

So I challenge you to press these MPs to follow their consciences and do what they know is right; vote to abolish the long-gun registry and fight crime instead.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, it would be remiss of me if I left tonight without at least briefly talking about the number one issue of concern to Canadians and our Government, and that is the economy.

As you know, the global financial system remains in great difficulty. While Canada’s financial system is the strongest in the world, the international situation has created a global recession that is causing great drops in growth and employment around the world, including here in Canada.

We are working with the world’s other major economies through the G-20 to deal with this crisis. And we are taking action to stimulate the economy and protect Canadians, through a five-part Economic Action Plan.

First, we are providing support to Canadian workers and taxpayers, to stimulate consumer spending. For example, all tax brackets below $80,000 are getting a significant personal income tax break starting this year. These tax reductions will begin to appear on paycheques in April.

There are also improvements in Employment Insurance benefits and significant increases in re-training for the unemployed.

Second, we are taking action to stimulate housing construction and renovation. Among other things, there is a new tax credit to assist first-time homebuyers with closing costs. And current Canadian homeowners can also take advantage of our Home Renovation Tax Credit this year.

Essentially, it provides a tax credit for home renovations of between $1,000 and $10,000, to either a principal residence or vacation property.

Third, to create jobs and keep people working, we are taking action to build new roads, bridges, public transit, sewers, research facilities and other infrastructure.

This includes, for example, half-a-billion dollars to repair and renovate rinks and other older community recreational facilities.

The economic action plan also includes a major investment in our national trails system, the cross-country network
that serves outdoorsmen and women of all types.

Fourth, we are taking action to help businesses and communities being hit hardest by the recession. This includes advertising to support the tourism industry by encouraging travel to Canada.

We are also making new investments in our national parks. And we are creating, for the first time, an economic development agency to promote job creation and business growth in southern Ontario.

Fifth, our economic action plan contains important measures to ensure that Canadian businesses, especially smaller businesses, have reasonable, affordable access to the financing they need.

Ladies and gentlemen, our Economic Action Plan – like our conservation initiatives – is realistic, practical, and designed to serve the real needs of Canadians.

The opposition has a lot of criticism, but no plan at all for the economy, except for advocating a new carbon tax, and increasing the GST.

That economic approach is, of course, like their approach to anglers and hunters, theoretical, impractical and based on telling ordinary Canadians and the private sector how to run their lives. The difference could not be greater.

Ladies and gentlemen, just as hunters and anglers are careful and responsible stewards of our natural environment, our Government will be a careful and responsible steward of our economy during this global recession.

Like you, we are determined to leave things better than we found them. To take action that will produce tangible benefits for Canadians today, that build on what we have for future generations, and that leave ordinary people free to live their lives according to their traditions.

I want to thank you once again for giving me another opportunity to address you and I hope you have a successful conference and a good season ahead.

Thank you.