Collaborative consultation processes on Pacific fisheries topics have involved a diverse range of interest groups and government agencies tackling a broad range of circumstances and topic areas. A number of these processes have experienced successes, some more enduring than others, and some lasting for only a few meetings or less. One of the hallmark attributes of the more successful models is the importance placed on gaining a better understanding of each other’s perspectives and backgrounds. Perhaps this could best be described as having walked on each other’s shorelines before reaching conclusions on each other’s positions. Another important characteristic of successful collaborative processes is the focus on reaching agreement upon the destination rather than arguing whether each of us should get there by boat or canoe. Once these sorts of issues have been resolved everyone is provided the opportunity to contribute toward a successful completion of the journey by drawing upon their own knowledge and experience bases.
Much has been written on the various approaches DFO has taken regarding consultation. Perhaps the most comprehensive review and recommendations were summarized in the Independent Review of Improved Decision Making in the Pacific Salmon Fisheries by the Institute for Dispute Resolution, May, 2001.
Federal and provincial governments have traditionally consulted with stakeholders and other affected parties on important issues. Fisheries and Oceans Canada has been consistently at the forefront involving the various salmon interests in the formulation of public policy as well as developing operational strategies. The department has constantly sought to improve upon their consultation approaches by trying new approaches, as evidenced by the ISDF. In the past, DFO typically addressed challenging public policy issues or competing operational policy choices through bilateral settings. These meetings frequently involved indirect communications from one stakeholder or interest group to another (often competing) group through the DFO representatives attending the meetings. Progress on many issues not surprisingly was often slow at best.
Some limited success has been achieved through the facilitated integrated multi-sector meeting approach. DFO has addressed many public policy issues and operational policy options by inviting major interests to send elected or appointed representatives to meetings hosted and facilitated by DFO or their contractors. Following a structured, agenda-based discussion, DFO would then consider the views and advice to formulate an approach that would attempt to serve the best interest of the resource, the agency, and the people of Canada, at least within a structured hierarchal set of priorities, before presenting their recommendations to the ultimate decision maker, the Minister of Fisheries. Needless to say, the final outcome rarely suited everyone.
Multi-sector approaches tend to produce better outcomes when agreements can be reached. If disagreements remain, a majority/minority report might be included in the final report and recommendations. There are some consultation processes taking place at the sector level (such as the CSAB) where this also could take place.
Consensus-based decision making has been included within the terms of reference for a number of multi-sector and bilateral consultation processes. As with most decision making processes, the success of an approach depends on the conditions it is asked to operate within, and the sorts of topics on which it is asked to provide advice or decisions. If withholding from joining a complete consensus could be used to advance a position, then the effectiveness of this type of process is critically limited.