TIMES COLONIST (VICTORIA, BC)
Les Leyne: Popham being grilled in question period
LES LEYNE / TIMES COLONIST
OCTOBER 24, 2017 12:25 AM
Agriculture ministers don’t normally spend a lot of time under the gun in question period, but Lana Popham is setting new marks for the number of queries coming her way.
She spent a third day under scrutiny Monday, as the B.C. Liberal opposition devoted almost a half-hour to probing what she’s doing as minister, and what she did previously as critic. Two new issues came to light during the exchanges, while the earlier implications of her challenging letter to a fish-farm company were still sinking in.
The first was about one of her employees, fish pathologist Dr. Gary Marty, who has jousted in the past with anti-salmon farm advocates about scientific issues related to net-pen salmon farms’ impacts on wild salmon stocks.
Popham confirmed that his work is now under some kind of review, although the form and scope are not yet clear. The work in Marty’s Abbotsford lab is, or will be, reviewed due to concerns raised by federal fisheries and oceans staff about scientific process. Popham said the review is about the scientific integrity of the lab.
“There were some allegations that our research might not have integrity so … we’re looking into seeing that it has integrity. That is a normal procedure that happens if research is in question.”
Popham said it’s not an investigation, but the lab is advising on how to proceed on an independent review.
Marty has not been shy in the past about wading into arguments with high-profile campaigners against fish farms. He disputed advocates’ warnings about a fish virus several years ago and wrote a public letter challenging Alexandra Morton’s assertions. Two years ago, a group of scientists went public with concerns about a report by Marty that downplayed aquaculture’s risks to wild salmon.
One of the First Nations protesting salmon farms said last week it wants him fired over that report.
The review of his work follows controversy last week about Popham’s letter to aquaculture firm Marine Harvest, warning that its restocking plans for one farm in the Broughton Archipelago could create problems for their tenure at the site, which “cannot be guaranteed.”
Although tenure renewal is normally a technical matter handled by staff, Popham warned the company could be required to return possession of the farm sites at the end of the lease tenures next year.
“While issuance of any replacement tenure or any permission to allow you continued occupation of existing sites on a month to month remains subject to future decision-making processes and cannot be guaranteed, we look forward to your input.”
She also cited the NDP’s commitment to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, saying it means “companies should make every effort to develop and maintain healthy relationships with First Nations in whose territories companies are doing business.” Marine Harvest has working agreements with some north Island bands, but others oppose the farms.
The letter was widely read as an illustration of how powerful the UNDRIP stance can be on resource decisions.
Popham said Monday that “times have changed.”
The status quo on aquaculture isn’t good enough and things are going to be done differently, she said.
Rounding out Popham’s turn on the hot seat was a letter she wrote to Agriculture Land Commission head Frank Leonard two years ago, when she was the opposition agriculture critic, asking for a quick decision on an ALR matter involving a constituent.
Popham stressed in the letter she wasn’t advocating either way for a decision on the matter, just that it be made soon.
“Updating [and] re-signing everything will be a costly expense. Their lives have been put on hold to some extent as this matter has dragged on.”
But the ALC has a policy concerning the role of elected officials in dealing with ALC deliberations. It’s designed to ensure that decisions are seen to be fair, impartial and independent, and it appears to forbid such pleas.
The policy says MLAs can write to the commission if “the communication is neutral in tone and avoids any reasonable perception that it is an attempt to influence either the outcome or the timing of the decision.”
Popham said Monday the letter was just routine and “it’s probably something that we all partake in as MLAs.”