Evan Saugstad: Governing by poll is not in our best interests


In B.C. headlines: “the majority of people who responded to our poll favoured the end of the grizzly bear hunt in B.C.” It’s one headline we heard over and over during the past few years.

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History has shown that when the masses respond to polls and answer questions on whose outcomes will have no effect on them personally, the results can have very little meaning. Bear hunting polls used few if any facts, to explain why. Respondents with no real knowledge of the facts based their decisions on their own emotions and beliefs, just like polls responding to sex, religion, or political views, the I Am Right, You Are Wrong philosophy. The resulting polls become points of view. The “I don’t hunt bears and if I don’t nobody else should” point of view won.

Although we know many polls mean little, occasionally governments do grab on to their outcomes and run with them. Reasons vary, but mostly to further their own political agenda and grab few more votes, as did the NDP during the last election.

Governing by poll isn’t always in the best interest of good government. As an example, as a former mayor, I was around when Vancouver started safe injection sites and free drugs for users in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver.

At that time, most people I talked to were absolutely against using their tax dollars to buy drugs for addicts, and likely still are. Vancouver persisted and convinced most B.C. politicians that they should be allowed to do this, so they did.

Initially, I was also opposed, until I talked to some fellow politicians and health workers from the Lower Mainland. When they expressed what was really happening in their communities, it made sense. Less crime, safer streets, fewer deaths, all for a small fee in supplying drugs and safe sites. If the government had been brave, or stupid, enough to put that drug question out in a poll such as the end the grizzly hunt one, I would bet the vast majority of B.C. residents would say “don’t use my tax dollars to buy drugs for addicts.”

Ending safe drug sites by an opinion poll wouldn’t make it right, just as ending the grizzly hunt based on polls doesn’t either. What is further troubling, is that the B.C. government had commissioned a report on grizzly bears that concluded hunting is not a factor in their population levels, yet they canned the hunt.

Other government studies have reported that grizzly bears are one of the leading candidates in moose and caribou calf mortality. Yet, we spend millions trying to increase both these populations, all the while we try to increase the bear populations. The result, more bears to eat moose and caribou. Lets spend more to make it better.

Why should we create more moose and more caribou, so we can provide more food for more bears? From my flat-world perspective, sure doesn’t seem to make sense or sound like good fiscal management.

Despite all the focus on grizzlies and their management, B.C. does not have a management goal that states how many grizzlies B.C. should have, or where they should be allowed to live and flourish.

Do we want grizzlies in the Okanagan orchards or living next  to our many towns and cities? Of course not, and when they do show up and do their normal things, like eating whatever they can find or catch, our conservation officers are then called to shoot them and haul them off to the dump.

Again, from my flat-world perspective, doesn’t make much sense to use our tax dollars to pay some folks to shoot bears when others would pay much more for guides, outfitters, governments, and others, if they were allowed, and at no cost to the taxpayer, and do the same deed on our behalf.

Back to this fall’s hunt as us hunters all take to the bush. For an unlucky few, we will come face to face with a grizzly, either by total chance, or by meeting one that is just trying to get its next meal from what you have just harvested.  What do we do then? Do we defend our life and property, at the expense of the bear?  And if you do, what then?

By law, “to kill or wound wildlife by accident or to protect life or property and fail to promptly report the killing to an officer” is an offence under the Wildlife Act.

If you are so unlucky to have to shoot one in self defence, you do need to report it as soon as you can. If you are in an area with no cell coverage, you can wait until you reach an area where you are able. Highly recommend you don’t do it in defence of property, as you will have to prove you couldn’t avoid the bear. Likely, you will be charged and then must prove your case in court. What conservation staff do with those who must shoot a grizzly will be interesting. Will they listen to reason and agree with your assessment of the circumstances, or take the easy way out, charge you with killing a protected species and let a judge decide your fate?

In a sane world, this could make sense, but I don’t think we live in all that sane of times.  Grizzly bears have now been elevated to such a status that some think they are now endangered and that shooting should result in automatic charges.

Or, as the adage says, “If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is there to see it, did it really happen?” become how an unfortunate few respond?

What is next?

We know there is still a concerted effort to end hunting, and now that the “ban grizzly hunting” folks are freed up and have nothing better to do, wolves, black bears, and cougars, and likely any other species we consider a trophy, are next on their list.

But it won’t just be them advancing this view. It can also be our government’s own philosophy.

As an example, in the 2018-19 hunting regulations, one must now take home all cougar parts for consumption. Are they next on the list of banned species after the anti-everything people do a few more polls? I saw what the media reported on when a well-known filmmaker-hunter posted a picture of himself with a legally hunted cougar in Alberta last winter.

From up here, and from my point of view, the world is still flat, and so far, this year, seems the grizzlies score is 5, humans 1.

Evan Saugstad lives in Fort St. John.

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