Thursday, January 9, 2014

UPDATED: Political Animals

UPDATE: At a recent candidates debate hosted by Niagara radio station CKTB the PC, Liberal and NDP candidates were forced to go off script and answer a question about Marineland and the protection of animals in Ontario.

In the province of Ontario and the electoral riding of Niagara Falls (Niagara Falls, Fort Erie & Niagara-on-the-Lake) a byelection is imminent.  This follows the resignation of MPP Kim Craitor who has held his seat in the provincial legislature for a decade as part of the governing Liberal party.

You will soon be hearing from candidates about many important issues including jobs, the economy and health care just to name a few.  We also hope to hear more on important social issues such as the environment or education but undoubtedly if you are reading this page you also have some concerns about what is happening at Marineland.  The byelection will be an opportunity for those concerned about the issues at Marineland to have their voices heard.  Voters should educate themselves on the positions of each candidate hoping to win the riding and how they would represent your interests, especially if your interests include the protection of animals, the end of political favoritism and the promotion of free speech and public protest.

Marineland: In Depth presents a brief look at the initial front runners likely to be appearing as candidates in the byelection:

Bart Maves,  the PC candidate had previously been the MPP for Niagara Falls during the last era of PC provincial government from 1995 to 2003.  Since then Maves has twice attempted to regain  the riding in subsequent elections and failed.  He is currently a councillor for the Niagara regional government.  Maves has been silent about Marineland.  Despite numerous attempts and requests by Marineland: In Depth asking Maves for clarification on his position about various issues surrounding Marineland, the OSPCA and the protection of animals in Ontario Maves has refused comment.  Voters are left to their own conclusions about how Bart Maves or a PC government would have handled the problems at Marineland differently.  During his time in office representing Niagara Falls from 1995 to 2003 despite increasing concern and pressure at the federal level of government over Marineland's importation and care of marine mammals,  Maves did nothing to advance the protection of animals there or increase oversight of their care at his level of government.  In 2012 after serious reports of animal abuse and neglect began to surface at Marineland current PC party leader Tim Hudak's response was callous stating the legislature had more important issues to deal with than zoos & aquariums.

During a recent candidates debate moderated by Niagara radio host Tom McConnell, Bart Maves was asked:

What do you think the future of Marineland should be and what should be done about animal protection laws in Ontario?

Bart Maves: "We are three local people (referring to the other candidates) so I think we all agree on the issue so I won't disagree with my colleagues, but I want to go back and talk about hydro rates..."

Joyce Morocco, the Liberal nominee is a current Niagara Falls City Councillor.  She is involved in marketing tourism and event management and has run several related websites.  In 2010, Morocco who has a degree in office management was fired from the Niagara Falls Tourism agency.  Morocco's biased towards Marineland and its owner John Holer is evident by her voting record and she shows no significant interest in her platform in regards to the protection of animals in Ontario.  In 2012 as part of Niagara Falls City Council Morocco voted to lease public land to Marineland.  The land had been used by the public for decades to voice their opposition to the park.  Again in 2013, in response to further demonstrations Morocco again voted to hand over more public land to Marineland.  Morocco also declined to meet with citizens who were concerned about the lease.  Joyce picks up the banner of the Liberal party at a time when they have failed miserably to protect animals not only at Marineland but across the province.  It should also be noted that Morocco's Liberal predecessor Kim Craitor received significant campaign contributions from Marineland in the last election as did the Liberal Mayor of Niagara Falls Jim Diodati.

During a recent candidates debate moderated by Niagara radio host Tom McConnell, Joyce Morocco was asked:

What do you think the future of Marineland should be and what should be done about animal protection laws in Ontario?

Joyce Morocco: "Well uh I have to say that I also support Marineland and the workers there.  I have to say that Marineland is governed by the federal government who have guidelines making sure the animals are being treated properly.  It is a wildlife issue of the federal government.  I actually sat on the Humane Society boards so i'm passionate about animals and an animal lover myself.  It's important to say that I have a very good friend who is the veterinarian there and believe me if the animals weren't being treated right I'll tell ya I don't think that she would have put up with that at all.  I have to say that I have a lot of respect for the veterinarian who oversees Marineland and oversees that the animals are properly taken care of."

Wayne Gates, who will be seeking the nomination for the NDP is also a current Niagara Falls City Councillor and local union president of Unifor (formerly CAW).  Gates is one of the few local politicians who has been publicly critical of Marineland, at least in their pursuit of public land to block protesters.  Gates was vocal in his opposition to the land leases and voted against them both times.  "It is an issue that touches people around the world," he said. "The reality is, I believe that the reason this is being done is to stop protests at this particular site."  Marineland employs hundreds of people at low wages so it is likely the park's status as a non unionized workplace does not endear itself to Gates either.  In regards to animal protection Gates is lacking a meaningful platform and when contacted by Marineland: In Depth he refused to answer questions regarding his position.

During a recent candidates debate moderated by Niagara radio host Tom McConnell, Wayne Gates was asked:

What do you think the future of Marineland should be and what should be done about animal protection laws in Ontario?

Wayne Gates:  "I support Marineland, I support the jobs they create there.  Its a very important employer for the tourism in Niagara Falls. And obviously i support, to ensure that the animals there are taken care of and well treated."

Clarke Bitter is looking for the nod to represent the Green Party.  Bitter is a Niagara Falls businessman with conservative roots who was drawn to Green Party policies which he felt better represented his own values and common sense.  Bitter is the least experienced politically of the group having never held public office.  In regards to Marineland, Bitter is very forward about his position and has stated "I do not believe in keeping marine mammals in captivity."  Bitter would support legislation to phase out the captivity of marine mammals in such a way as to allow facilities the time to adjust and secure jobs.  Bitter also believes the OSPCA has bungled the investigation at Marineland and rather than throwing money at the problem would rather see an overhaul of how inspections and regulation are conducted.

Despite an unprecedented display of public outrage over the treatment and confinement of animals at Marineland the complete lack of political willpower has meant very little has actually changed for the animals there.  Ultimately it will be up to the public to continue to make this an important issue going into the byelection and hold politicians accountable for their lack of interest or action.  Get educated, get engaged and most importantly get out and vote for the change you want to see.

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