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This article was published 22/7/2019 (429 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The Norway House Fisherman’s Co-op is crying foul over the Tory government’s decision to grant an experimental fishing licence to one of the party’s candidates in the upcoming provincial election.
Ron Evans, a former chief of Norway House who is running for the Progressive Conservatives in The Pas-Kameesak, had his fishermen’s co-op membership revoked last year following a disagreement with the group’s board.
In a phone interview Monday, Evans said the dispute was over actions he took while serving as the community’s chief until 2018.
Evans said he tried to foster economic development in the North by helping the Northwest Company build a convenience store with an attached gas bar. It provided direct competition for the co-op’s established fuel station.
The co-op revoked his membership in August 2018, as it believed his actions as chief were causing it direct harm. Evans sought a judicial review of the matter, which a Court of Queen’s Bench judge ultimately ruled was outside his jurisdiction to make a decision on.
"The co-op does have the authority to remove my membership if that’s their wish. But they do not have the authority or the power to remove my fishing licence," Evans said in an interview Monday.
"The province can only do that if there’s justifiable cause and, fortunately for me, there isn’t any justifiable cause."
In a new application to the Court of Queen’s Bench filed this month and first reported on by the CBC, the fishermen’s co-op alleged Sustainable Development Minister Rochelle Squires bypassed its jurisdiction by granting Evans an experimental commercial fishing licence and allowing him to hold onto 1/50 of their fish quota starting in May. (This was the same amount Evans previously received as a co-op member.)
The lawyer for the fishermen’s co-op, Norman Boudreau, told the Free Press the group is taking the province to court to protect its property rights.
"They took away the quota owned by the fishermen’s co-op and provided a portion of that quota to Mr. Evans. That is the issue," Boudreau said. "In acting in such a way, the province essentially meddles with the way the co-op administers and governs its members."
Boudreau said the co-op was working on its court application for months and waiting until the fishing season was over to file, unaware Evans would be running for the Tories in the upcoming election.
Evans said he thought the issue was dealt with, and didn’t realize it was before the courts again until a CBC reporter contacted him last week.
The former chief said he didn’t tell the PCs about the fishing-membership issue during his candidate vetting process. He noted there was no political interference when granting him a new licence.
"I never once spoke with the minister or the premier on it. It was always done through the normal channels, which is working through the bureaucracy," Evans said.
Olivia Billson, a spokeswoman for Squires, said the government couldn’t comment on specifics of the case while it was before the courts, but noted it is committed to maintaining a relationship with the Norway House Fishermen’s Co-op and all users of the lake.
"To suggest that the minister or the department of sustainable Development would politically interfere with the licensing process is inaccurate and disappointing," Billson said by email.
"With respect to licences, commercial fishing licences are issued and withdrawn by the government of Manitoba."
She noted there were 15 experimental commercial fishing licences granted in 2017 and 13 in 2018, while the number for 2019 was not yet available.
"Experimental licences have been issued in a wide variety of circumstances that include, either alone or in combination: new fisheries of uncertain prospect, fisheries of limited term, fisheries where no fisher tenure is desirable, to open a fishery not listed on the harvest schedule, and fisheries where the inclusion of non-standard licence conditions may be desirable," Billson said.
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