From seaside to CEO: Halifax's Megan Leslie named new president of World Wildlife Fund Canada
The former Halifax MP and NDP deputy leader is bringing her ocean background to a national conservation level.
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Megan Leslie may be “thrilled” to become the new president of the World Wildlife Fund Canada (WWF), but is shedding a salty tear for the fact it means leaving Halifax.
Leslie, former Halifax MP and NDP environment critic, has worked with the WWF’s oceans team for the past couple of years out of Nova Scotia and will take over as president & CEO from David Miller - becoming the first woman in 40 years to do so.
“To fight for ocean conservation, to fight against the decline of wildlife, it is so inspiring and it’s incredible … So the idea of doing that with teams across the country, whether it’s fresh water or Arctic or science, I’m so thrilled,” Leslie said Wednesday in an interview.
Although Leslie said it makes sense that the WWF’s CEO must be in Toronto with the largest office and partners, leaving the seaside city “is the only tear in my eye in an otherwise really exciting moment.”
Leslie said she’ll make the transition into president over the next few months, and although a recent WWF report shows a “daunting” 50 per cent of Canada’s species in decline, their group also know what methods lead to success, and now is the critical time to take action reversing that statistic.
Looking ahead, Leslie said she prefers to focus on ecosystems rather than naming species that need help - like how the decline of cod could be addressed through a focus on capelin (cod’s favourite meal), or protecting the narwhal’s Arctic habitat from becoming eroded or polluted while ensure they also have prey.
A passion and focus of Leslie’s that she says she will bring as a lens into every WWF project is climate change (“the most important issue facing the planet”), but trying to turn it around and look at how habitat restoration could also help humans.
With the recent hurricane in New York, Leslie said the few wetlands surrounding the city absorbed so much water that would have flooded the city - and “if we can make our habitat more resilient to climate change, that makes us more resilient.”
She’s also “pretty proud” the national organization will be led by someone from the East Coast with an ocean background and understanding, Leslie said, since oceans can often be forgotten by the rest of the country even though we have the longest coastline in the world.
“The ocean is us. It’s not just about going down and seeing a breathtaking view - there’s a blue economy in there,” Leslie said about aspects of shipping, recreation, tourism, and fishing that are “critical to Canada as an entire country.”
Although Leslie said “no,” with a laugh, when asked if she would’ve seen herself here when she first lost her seat in the 2015 election to Liberal Andy Fillmore, she’s proud of the time she spent in politics and how her handle on policy, engagement and fundraising will help in the new role.
Leslie added she won’t be running in the next federal election and is “very committed” to WWF’s goals.
“I’m young and life is long, and all I have ever wanted to do is work on issues of social, environmental and economic justice, and I think politics is one way to do that,” Leslie said.
“But it is just one avenue. You can play just as important a role outside of Parliament … politicians are really powerless without communities behind them.”
Megan Leslie’s top Nova Scotia issues:
On the 16 right whale deaths this year: “I do think that tough decisions are going to have to be made - we know that these deaths are a result of human activity, we don’t know why yet they’re in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, but we know that’s it’s entanglement and we know that it’s ship strikes, and that is something that we have to figure out how to deal with.”
Leslie said the shipping community responded “fairly well” after a bit of pushback and they did slow down with a snow crab fishery closure, but more information on the issue will come out next week in a fisheries department briefing on “what we really do know” including necropsy results and “what the lessons learned are.”
On marine protection and fisheries: “Protection in a way that works with people relying on the ocean for their community’s prosperity, so working with fishermen, working with First Nations to try and figure out where are the areas that we need to be protecting and what does that protection look like. We’re working a lot on forage fish, these little guys like capelin, herring and mackerel, sort of the little fish with big influence because they’re a keystone within the food chain and so many of our other species rely on them - but we don’t have a good handle on their populations, on the health of their stock, and we need to work to figure that out. But also they’re relied on for bait by fishermen, and we need to ensure that fishermen have access to bait, but we also need to ensure that the stocks are healthy, so trying to tease that out and find some solutions there.”