This fall, the Manitoba government launched into one of its most visible exercises in democracy in recent memory.
The province released three public surveys asking a total of 18 questions about angling, big game hunting and bird hunting; covering everything from fishing with two rods in the summer to setting fixed dates for opening big game seasons every year. Hard-copy surveys were sent by mail to a random sample of angling and hunting license buyers, while the general public was invited to complete the surveys online.
Soliciting the opinions of your citizens and license buyers, generally speaking, is a good thing. Too often governments are accused of making decisions without asking for or considering the input of those whom their decisions affect. So making an effort to survey the population is a good move in terms of transparent government and democracy, which is, after all, how our country is technically supposed to be run.
But democracy is not without its warts, so I hope the government is cautious about how it interprets the results, and applies them to potential policy changes.
The first caveat is whether reliable statistical conclusions can be drawn from the surveys. It was hard to gauge the level of scientific rigour that went into this, and how many respondents are needed to give the results statistical significance. The online portion in particular seems vulnerable to skewing based on targeted campaigns to get supporters or opponents of any specific questions to answer the survey.
A second caution is the selection of the questions in the first place, as well as how the possible answers are worded. It’s unclear why these particular questions were put forward for public consultation, including a couple seemingly out of left field. One can only assume the government is considering all or most of the proposed changes, or else what would be the point of asking? Yet you wonder if some unexpected or outlier survey results might derail proposals that may otherwise have progressed, or boost others that might otherwise have failed.
Finally, there is the age-old democratic problem of asking questions of a populace who, God love ‘em, don’t know what they’re talking about. It’s encouraging to see that the government actively recruited hunters and anglers to answer the surveys, because they are the ones with the expertise to know the issues, and skin in the game when it comes to being affected by potential changes. Involving the general public though, means you may be asking someone who doesn’t know a perch from a pelican to comment on angling policy.
All this being said, I’m actually fairly hopeful the surveys will end up being a success, and prove to be very informative. Let’s just hope the results are only used to inform policy, not to dictate it.
Manitoba Lodges and Outfitters Association
To hear MLOA executive director Paul Turenne’s interview with Radio-Canada (CBC French) about the surveys, click here.
The survey questions related to the following:
Lift requirement to leave identifiable skin patch on fish fillets?
Open fishing season in southern MB all spring, except for walleye and sauger?
Do away with three-day use limit on live bait?
Allow anglers to use two rods while fishing open water?
Allow non-motorized boats on Whitewater Lake?
Restrict foreign-resident waterfowl hunting opportunity?
Restrict foreign-resident upland bird hunting opportunity?
Expand wild turkey hunting across Manitoba?
Allow a spring season for giant Canada geese?
Allow a mourning dove hunting season?
Allow hunting in certain existing game bird refuges?
Allow first-time adult bird hunters to hunt without hunter education?
Allow more resident black bear opportunity and/or restrict non-resident opportunity?
Introduce a wolf/coyote license?
Return whitetail deer season lengths to previous regime?
Open big game seasons on the same date every year?
Allow youth to harvest any deer (not just antlered)?
Allow crossbow use during archery season?