If it had anything to do with the environment, Jim Fulton would have had something to say about it — and usually in a colourful fashion.
The outspoken former NDP MP, who threw a dead salmon on then-prime minister Brian Mulroney's desk during a debate about the sockeye fishery in the Skeena Valley in 1985, died Saturday night after a long battle with cancer. He was 58.
His death leaves a gaping hole in the environmental community, particularly among his colleagues at the David Suzuki Foundation, where he was appointed the first executive director.
When he was offered the job, David Suzuki said Fulton told him: “Look Suzuk, we're lifers. We're in it for life.”
“It's a sad day. He was a friend; I always called him my brother,” Suzuki said Sunday. “Canada has lost one of the greatest people in the past century.”
Fulton, who worked as a probation officer in the Queen Charlottes before he was elected as Skeena-Bulkley MP in 1979, was a passionate advocate of the environment. He was NDP environmental critic in Parliament from 1980 until he left office in 1993. He also served as forestry and fisheries critic and the party's spokesman on aboriginal affairs.
When he left politics to spend more time with his family, Fulton joined the then-fledgling David Suzuki Foundation, growing its staff from a few dozen people to about 60 today.
“This was his calling,” said Jim Hoggan, executive director of the David Suzuki Foundation.
“This is a big loss for Canada because he was a great voice for the environment across Canada. He was one of the guys who was a vanguard of the environment, starting 20 years ago.”
In the past year, Fulton would come into the office for about three hours a day. His entrance was always followed by peals of laughter.
“He was a bigger-than-life character, he was one of those rare people who come along,” said Suzuki, who knew Fulton for 25 years. “Everyone paid attention to him. Either you loved him or hated him but you couldn't ignore him.”
Ian Gill, president of Ecotrust Canada, said he spoke with Fulton Saturday and said his friend told him he had the cancer beat.
After three years of watching him battle the disease, Gill was hopeful. “I thought he'd live to be 100,” he said.
The former CBC reporter remembers Fulton as a colourful, theatrical and passionate politician who never hesitated to speak his mind.
“Every time he opened his mouth he had a great quote hanging out of there,” Gill said. “He was just a prince of a man.”
Fulton was also a huge ally — and a friend — to the first nations people.
Suzuki said it was through Fulton that he got to know the Haida Gwaii. Fulton had called him up one day and told him he should a story on the Nature of Things about logging in Windy Bay.
“At that time I didn't even know where Windy Bay was,” he said.
“Jim had that vision right from the beginning that if you wanted to protect the land and the oceans, who better to do this than those had the most stake — the first nations.”
Fulton worked with first nations to document cultural claims to forest lands and once caused a firestorm in Quebec because of his warning to U.S. consumers that there would be blood on Hydro-Quebec electricity sold from the massive Great Whale hydroelectric project in northern Quebec. The project would flood 5,000 square kilometres of land in a region inhabited by 12,000 Cree and 5,000 Inuit.
“He was a good friend of ours,” said Skidegate band chief councillor Willard Wilson. “He always tried to do good for our people, that's what I remember most about him. I've only got good things to say about him.”
Fulton had a summer home in the Gwaii Haanas (South Moresby) in the southern part of the Queen Charlotte Islands, where he would go every August to fish.
Suzuki said he told him on Friday the pair of them would go there together in February. He said he will still go there, but with Fulton's remains.
Miles Richards, a director on the Suzuki Foundation, said Fulton was so loved by the Haida Gwaii that the elders honoured him with a name: Skilcutlass.
“No matter where he went he'd always go back there; it was home,” he said. “He'll be hugely missed. He was a driving force in that part of the world.”
Hoggan said Fulton was an avid outdoorsman who loved to fish and ski. He said he was a loyal and funny friend. “I remember what a big heart he had,” he said.
Gill described Fulton as a brave and fearless man who was fuelled by a sense of justice. “He was just unafraid to say the right thing.”
Fulton is survived by his parents, wife Melanie Friesen and his children, Katy, Blair and Linnea.