Treaty 1 Territory, Métis Homeland, Winnipeg, MB - Manitoba Liberals have submitted a complaint to the Manitoba Ombudsman to investigate whether the senior officials in the Department of Agriculture and Resource Development have been giving preferential treatment to the Manitoba Wildlife Federation (MWF) - an organization whose former Managing Director, Rob Olson, is now the Executive Director of the Wildlife and Fisheries Branch in Agriculture and Resource Development.
Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said the concerns are derived from a number of complaints across Manitoba about the MWF, including from the Pioneer Commercial Fishers of Manitoba (PCFM), as well as articles in which the MWF boast of having "Influential Friends" because the organization's former president works in government.
"You have people in the MWF, who aren't registered as lobbyists, boasting that since the department is run by their buddy, they can pick up the phone and get whatever they want, while other Manitobans are being driven out of business by the same decisions," said Lamont. "We are asking the Ombudsman to investigate whether the department is being run for the sake of a private interest group, because that is not acceptable."
The policies the MWF have pushed, listed below, have often been controversial. Other stakeholders, especially Commercial Fishers, say they have been hurt by them, and are being cut out from consultations, despite an explicit commitment from former Minister Rochelle Squires on November 28, 2018, not to make any changes without consultation.
"The quota buy back that was implemented is nothing short of racist when you blatantly paid less per pound of fish for those who work in the northern communities and reserves compared to those fishing in the south," said Einar Sveinson, PCFM President. "The way Mr. Pedersen and the department handles themselves is a clear sign that you have zero interest in our commercial fishing industry on Lake Winnipeg unless it is to put us out of business and disrupt our traditional way of making a living."
A Meyers Norris Penny study commissioned by PCFM showed that Manitoba's Commercial Fishing industry is worth $90 million directly and triple that indirectly, but that they can't get a meeting with the Government, despite a promise from former Minister of Sustainable Development, Rochelle Squires.
Manitoba Liberals say three of the most controversial are:
A quota buy-back program that the fishers say discriminates against Indigenous fishers in the north: the Province of Manitoba is paying less per pound of fish for those who work in the northern communities and reserves compared to those fishing in the south. Northern communities are getting $4/lbs, the middle channel $5/lbs and the Southern communities $6/lbs.
A decision to change mesh sizes for fishing, which fishers have argued is more likely to harm breeding stocks.
In March, the Government of Manitoba started a pilot project that allows the MWF to take over former wildlife management areas and convert them to pasture, rent-free for five years - even as the same department has hiked rents and is evicting established ranchers from Crown Lands.
Rob Olson was the Managing Director of the Manitoba Wildlife Federation (MWF) until 2017.
In an article in Outdoor Canada, the "favourable" relationship is described in detail, under a headline "Manitoba: Influential Friends".
"Having allies in key positions in the Manitoba government is proving to be a boon for the Manitoba Wildlife Federation when it comes to its goals and initiatives... "Now, instead of writing a letter, we're picking up a phone and saying 'Hey, this is what's going on" and they're giving us a bunch of leeway to come up with a solution."
"Thanks to such connections, the MWF has recently achieved goals such as the first round of quota buy backs from commercial fishermen on Lake Winnipeg, as well as the implementation of minimum mesh sizes... We got those changes made, and part of that is the minister allowing up to collaborate and work with his guys to make it happen."
The article goes on to describe the MWF taking Minister Blaine Pedersen and his staff fishing, followed by a fish fry, along with Rob Olson. Neither the MWF nor Chris Heald are part of Manitoba's lobbyist registry.
"In this pandemic, the Pallister government has taken it upon itself to pick and choose who gets to work, and who gets to operate a business. It is no time to play favourites," said Lamont. "This government needs to give every Manitoban a fair hearing and fair treatment."