He went from being the biggest dolphin trader in the world to fighting for Canada’s sovereignty as the interim leader of the Canadian Action Party in a matter of months. Oh, and he’s committed to saving the oceans from his home base in Gordon Head.
You couldn’t make up a character turnaround this dramatic.
“I went from 21 years of not being political, to now the leader of a federal political party within one year,” said Christopher Porter, marine mammal trainer-turned salesman. “You can do something and you do have the power, because we’re all Canadian citizens and we all have the right to vote.”
In 2001 Porter was in the Solomon Islands speaking pidgin to communicate with the locals. At that time, the indigenous people of the Solomons slaughtered dolphins and used the teeth as dowries.
Porter graduated from Lambrick Park in 1986, worked at Oak Bay Marina’s now-defunct Sealand of the Pacific, and later as head trainer at the Vancouver Aquarium. He says it was in the Solomon Islands, while negotiating the export of dolphins for sale to international aquariums and tourist attractions, when he learned about democracy and consensus.
For nearly a decade, Porter lived in the Solomons and convinced hunters to stop slaughtering the marine mammals for their teeth, and to instead capture them for cash.
Porter believed strongly that selling the dolphins into a life of captivity was an improvement over slaughtering them.
He was able to suppress doubts he harboured over the industry, until he experienced a string of realizations in 2010: a third person died as a result of working with Tilikum (the orca once based at Sealand of the Pacific); he watched the documentary The Cove about the brutality of the dolphin trade; and he opened his eyes to the state of wild orcas suffering from diminished food supplies off the B.C. coast.
“When I first got into the (Solomon Islands), a dolphin was (worth) $20,” he said. “This year, I turned down a contract for $165,000 per dolphin.”
Porter says he was supporting 600 people in the Solomon Islands through the dolphin trade, with 25 per cent of sales levied by the Solomon government.
He’s not a pure capitalist, preferring to call himself a socialist/capitalist who has made a living for the last 21-years off animals in captivity. A married father of three, Porter says his most profitable year in the animal trade earned him $80,000 but ultimately wasn’t worth it.
As he transitions out of the Solomons, where he still owns a home, he is searching for an alternative for the country that has grown reliant on the dolphin trade. He admits he has “failed miserably” at balancing those needs with those of conservationists.
“It started with a dead hunt, then it went to a live hunt, and how can we move to no hunt at all?” he said. “I get that we’re removing a family group, but there’s a human aspect here, too. We’re talking hunters that I’m supporting, fisherman that I’m supporting, and the government that I’m supporting through a levy.”
His controversial negotiations in the Solomons, fear of globalization, free trade, privatization and Stephen Harper’s G-20 comments all played into Porter’s abrupt change of heart and subsequent foray into politics. Democracy through complete consensus, as he experienced it in the Solomons is possible in parliament, he says.
Now unemployed and seeking a career change, Porter hopes to lead the nearly 1,000-member Canadian Action Party during the current federal election. He and the 25 local members of the party are considering running a candidate in the Esquimalt/Juan de Fuca riding.
He admits he’s having a hard time earning the public’s trust and blames general apathy among citizens for why more people don’t get involved with decision-making.
“We’re losing our oceans, we’re losing our country and no one is participating.”
Fringe parties play important role
Dennis Pilon, political science professor at the University of Victoria, calls the Canadian Action Party’s singular effect on the country “negligible,” yet he lauds the role of minor parties in Canadian politics.
“Often things that can’t be said politically, are said first by the small parties because they have nothing to lose,” Pilon said.
While Canadians tend to be strategic at the poles, Pilon said they’ll listen to parties who aren’t necessarily in the running for seats in the House.
“These smaller political parties inject new ideas into the system.”
Did you know?
• CAP was formed In 1997 by former Liberal cabinet minister and one-time federal Progressive Conservative candidate Paul Hellyer.
• Nationally, the party has more than 1,000; locally, there are about 25.
• Platform focuses on monetary control, sovereignty, civil and human rights, parliamentary reform, environment.
• The hot issue right now is the proposed Beyond the Border, Canada-US joint declaration, including cross-border law enforcement. The Canadian government is accepting feedback on the plan via its website at www.bit.ly/OneBorder.