Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege in relation to an answer to a written question, which answer was tabled in the House on December 8. The response in the House was, in my opinion, a deliberate attempt to mislead the House, an infraction defined by Speaker Jerome in 1978.
The question was first asked on February 3, 2004. It was asked again on October 5, 2004. The question was as follows:
With regard to the environmental and economic issues posed by the development of salmon farm aquaculture sites in bays and inlets along the coast of British Columbia...what...diseases or parasites have been found at salmon net pen sites in each of the years 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2003, and what was the location of each farm site having these diseases or parasites--
A response was prepared for the minister by February 17, two weeks after the question was first asked. It was prepared by Dorothee Kieser, a well-known fish health pathobiologist and was as follows:
Canada has no list of reportable fish diseases.
Because there are not reportable diseases, DFO has no regulatory capacity for requiring farms to report disease outbreaks. Nor does the Department have a routine monitoring program to check on the status of disease outbreak on farms. While such monitoring is done by a provincial agency, DFO does not obtain that information.
The department also does not maintain a surveillance program to detect pathogens/parasites in wild stocks or detect a change in the rate of infection/infestation. Hence there is no ability to state whether diseases in wild stocks are “new” or whether there is a greater prevalence of pathogens in wild stocks.
According to a departmental document received under access to information, Sharon Ashley, the acting director general of the executive secretariat determined that the scientist's answer for the minister was too negative. The directive demanded that Sharon McGladdery, the senior science advisor for aquatic animal health, prepare a more positive response to this question. That response given in this House on December 8 was:
This information is collected by the British Columbia Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, whose veterinary services are responsible for aquaculture fish health surveillance and diagnosis.
A question was asked about a matter pertaining to the mandate of the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, that is, the protection of wild fish and their habitat. An answer was prepared by the department's senior fish health pathobiologist who advised that the department was not fulfilling its constitutional mandate to protect wild fish and their habitat.
The answer was deemed too negative. A senior bureaucrat in the minister's executive secretariat found the answer too negative and ordered the preparation of a more positive response to this question. The more positive response is the responsibility of the province, according to the minister.
The minister's answer in Parliament is a serious attempt to mislead Parliament. The truth is that matters affecting the health of fish in the marine environment is the direct responsibility of the Department of Fisheries under statutes enacted by Parliament and is the sole responsibility of the federal government under the Constitution.
The original response prepared by the scientist clearly stated the department's failure to fulfill its obligations. The sanitized response would have us believe that the matter was the responsibility of the province.
In 1978 Speaker Jerome stated:
--in order to found a question of privilege, the allegation would have to be not simply that the House had been misled, but had been deliberately misled.
--an allegation that the House had been misled without deliberateness does not constitute privilege on the face of it.
The minister's December 8 response is not merely a sin of omission, it is one of commission, of deliberateness. The response was rewritten to deliberately remove the embarrassing truth.
I placed the question on the order paper recognizing it was one that required detailed study by Department of Fisheries scientists because I wanted a scientifically accurate answer. In sharp contrast to the answer prepared for the minister by the Department of Fisheries scientist, the minister's answer given in Parliament is devoid of the embarrassing factual material. The minister's answer is devoid of the facts that had been deemed too negative by the director general of the executive secretariat.
The minister's answer was a deliberate attempt to mislead Parliament.
DFO scientists carefully prepare an accurate response to the written question. It should not be acceptable to the House that the response be rejected by senior staff in the minister's office because it is too embarrassing for him to give to the House.
Something less than the truth is not merely embarrassing, it is wrong. The direction given to produce a positive response as opposed to a truthful response to my question is an affront to the House.
Mr. Speaker, should you rule that I have a prima facie case of privilege, I would be prepared to move the appropriate motion to send the issue to a parliamentary committee.