Harper announces hunting and angling panel

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the creation of a hunting and angling advisory panel during a speech at the inaugural National Fish and Wildlife Conservation Congress in Ottawa.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced Wednesday night the creation of a hunting and angling advisory panel.

A new panel of representatives from hunting and fishing groups will provide the federal government with advice on federal conservation policy. Prime Minister Stephen Harper spoke to the 2012 National Fish and Wildlife Conservation Congress on Wednesday evening. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

Speaking as the guest of honour at the inaugural National Fish and Wildlife Conservation Congress in Ottawa, the prime minister said the panel would be composed of provincial and territorial representatives of hunting and angling associations.

He said the panel will report directly to the minister of the environment.

"We expect that it will reflect the wisdom in this room, helping to ensure that our government’s decisions are based on sound science and balanced advice," Harper said.

Although the prime minister did not provide details about the panel, the Tories have long said they would establish such a body to advise the government on issues such as endangered species and wetlands protection.

But the Harper government came under criticism for creating a firearms advisory committee made up of people who were against the gun registry.

The conference is being organized by the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters which has lobbied the government on a variety of issues, including, most recently, fish habitat regulation, which will undergo sweeping revision as part of the omnibus budget bill, CBC's Kady O'Malley reported.   

Both Canadian and American fishing and hunting groups were among the sponsors for the event.

The government is changing the Fisheries Act to focus on the protection of fish for commercial, aboriginal use or for sports fishery but will no longer protect fish habitat. Some critics have argued the changes will have devastating affect on fish habitat.

Recently, four former federal fisheries ministers questioned the government's motives behind the changes.

"We find it troubling that the government is proposing to amend the Fisheries Act via omnibus budget legislation in a manner that we believe will inevitably reduce and weaken the habitat protection provisions," Mulroney-era Conservatives Tom Siddon and John Fraser, and Liberals Herb Dhaliwal and David Anderson, who both served under Jean Chretien, said in an open letter.

Read Kady O'Malley's liveblog of Harper's speech from Wednesday evening's event:

Mobile-friendly version of liveblog also available.

With files from The Canadian Press