Protecting jobs in Saanich-Gulf Islands

I wish I could have protected the jobs in Parks Canada and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Due to the way in which the cuts fell – generally over the whole of the departments – there was not a good place of traction for me to get those cuts reversed. We will have to try to do that after the next election.

The decision to close the Plant Health Centre and move its functions to the Okanagan was different. Between full time, part-time and casual workers, 80 jobs were at stake, but so was the question of future land use and the fate of Dominion Brook Park enjoyed by many residents. Some were already assuming the decision was irreversible and were moving to calls to transfer the park land to the municipality.

I refused to accept that the decision was permanent. It was a discreet decision, not tied to general departmental cuts. And it was a decision that had failed to take into account that the Centre’s function to quarantine imported woody plants to avoid the spread of plant viruses (such as for fruit-bearing trees and grapes) was why it had been placed on Vancouver Island in the first place. No one currently working at the Plant Health Centre, nor scientists in universities doing contract work for the federal government, was allowed to speak with me to help build the case to keep the Centre open. I tracked down one of Canada’s leading plant virologists, Dr. Richard Stacesmith, living in retirement in Vancouver. In his 80s, his passion for good science was as strong as ever. He provided a letter explaining the science and the reasons that viruses with the potential of wiping out key sectors of Canadian agriculture should not be moved to the Okanagan. Although the risk of escapement is small, the consequences are more contained if the quarantine centre is on an island. Adding relevant scientific articles to the package, I hand-delivered it to the Prime Minister, the Minister of Agriculture Gerry Ritz and every Okanagan area MP.

Full credit to Minister Ritz — almost immediately, he told me he would review the situation and re-think the closure. And, as all of you already know, the decision was reversed and the Plant Health Centre, celebrating its 100th year of operation, had something else to celebrate – staying open! What many constituents may not know is that keeping the Centre open is the only time that a decision under the Harper Administration to close a federal facility has been reversed.

Strong campaigns managed to keep the Experimental Lakes Centre open by finding different operators – the Government of Ontario and the International Institute for Sustainable Development. As well, citizen campaigns found other managers and operational arrangements for the Centre of the Universe.