Paul MacNeill

Once again PEI’s Minister of Environment is stumbling her way through a crisis. Janice Sherry tried to put the best spin on the North River disaster that killed more than 1,000 rainbow trout, brook trout, stickleback and Atlantic salmon. She even called the latest kill devastating. 

That is an understatement.

Janice Sherry’s description, while appropriate, will do nothing to bring back the dead fish or stop future kills. Hollow political rhetoric rarely solves anything. 

Government’s response to fish kills is a classic exercise in duck, bob and weave. Frontline resources and action never match its words of concern. Fear of alienating the farming community stops government from doing what is necessary. Its primary objective is to appease the general public while doing little to stop future kills from occurring. 

This lack of urgency is the primary reason for the annual blotch on our Island reputation. What government fails to grasp is its lack of action not only enables fish kills but harms good farmers, and there are a lot of them. 

The vast majority of Island farmers are conscientious stewards of the land. Every time a fish kill occurs good farmers are convicted by association and the public’s confidence in our vital agriculture sector is reduced. There is nothing like a fish kill to provide easy ammunition to environmental zealots with little appreciation for the role agriculture plays in our economy. 

Hollow words of concern followed by a promise to investigate and, if necessary, tighten rules and regulations is as predictable as the kills themselves. 

Sherry’s tenure as minister has been a miserable exercise in mediocrity. Her handling of fish kills – and this marks the fourth year in a row – and deep well irrigation are both marked by a lack of firm leadership and attempts to dodge and mislead the public. 

CBC reported that two separate requests were made to the department for the deep well irrigation report produced by the minister’s advisory committee. One response claimed no report existed. The second response said the report existed but would not be released. 

Even if you get past the unfathomable reality of two separate answers for the same question, the department’s response is clearly titled toward secrecy. 

And Minister Janice Sherry is responsible. She is invoking a section of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act that allows advice to a minister to be withheld.

Irony apparently is lost on the minister. While slamming shut the doors of accountability, she is proclaiming the deep well issue must be fully transparent. 

Transparency apparently does not extend to the office of the minister of environment. 

The credibility of deep well science is of even more importance with the announced closure of the McCain french fry plant and the ratcheting up of rhetoric by rival Cavendish Farms, now claiming access to deep wells could be a deciding factor in any decision to follow McCain out of Prince Edward Island. 

It is a serious threat. One that should not be taken lightly, but also one that government should not cave to.

While the Ghiz government has continued to grow the provincial bureaucracy, it has not invested in frontline environmental services that could increase the public’s trust of the department and the processes it utilizes.

Until the government is prepared to put money behind its rhetoric we are only left with the minister’s word and from an environmental protection perspective that is not worth much.

Paul MacNeill is Publisher of Island Press Limited. He can be contacted at paul@peicanada.com

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