Shea gets grilled on anti-Liberal press releases

- April 4th, 2009

A month or so ago, Liberal Senator Mac Harb introduced a private members' bill in the Senate that would have effectively ended the seal hunt in Atlantic Canada. Not a single Senator, Liberal or Conservative, would second that bill and, as a result, it died.

Conservative Fisheries Minister Gail Shea and Conservative Senator Fabian Manning issued press releases on government letterhead and at government expense denouncing Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff and his “hidden agenda” on the seal hunt.

Shea's officials would subsequently concede that these press releases were issued in error.

Earlier this week, Minister Shea made her first appearance in front of the Senate's Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. Liberal Senator Bill Rompkey is the chair of that committee. Here is an excerpt of an exchange between Shea, who represents a PEI riding, and Senator James Cowan of Nova Scotia (left).

James CowanSenator Cowan: Welcome, minister. I was pleased to hear your comments during your opening statement on the seal hunt and the government's support for a sustainable and humane seal hunt. As you know, that is also the position of the Liberal Party of Canada. I do not know about other parties, but there is a common support for that seal harvest or hunt between the two major parties in the country.

I wanted to give you an opportunity to clarify a few things with respect to that. This is obviously a highly controversial issue amongst some people, and we all agree that there are people who are less interested in the seals than they are perhaps in promoting their own fundraising efforts for other purposes. You are aware as well that Senator Harb introduced a bill in the Senate and could not find a single senator anywhere in the place to support him in any way. I think that says something about the judgment of the rest of the Senate. I am troubled because on March 3, your department published and distributed a statement by my colleague Senator Manning, which said amongst other things that sealers need to know that the Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff and the Liberal Party want to ban the seal hunt. That is clearly wrong and inaccurate, but most importantly for the purposes of my question this morning, your department subsequently acknowledged that it was inappropriate to have published the statement of a private parliamentarian on a government website and to distribute that at government expense.

first question is, were you advised by anybody in your department that it was inappropriate to have posted and distributed that? If so, why did you go ahead and do it? If not, why not? Also, was an invoice issued to the Conservative Party of Canada, as you indicated it would be? How much was that invoice, and has the invoice been paid? ..

On that same day, you issued a statement alleging that there was a hidden agenda on the part of the Liberal Party, and in that statement, you said what is more telling are the actions of Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, and that his approval of such appalling legislation, referring to the Harb bill, has exposed the hidden agenda of the Liberal Party to put an end to Canada's sealing industry. What evidence did you have then and do you have now that would support that statement?

Ms. Shea: I guess it would be a lack of evidence, starting with your last question, because if the Liberal Party of Canada supported the seal hunt, then I would expect that there would be a statement to that effect from the leader, which I do not believe we have seen. I will say that even the introduction of legislation without a seconder, when that type of stuff hits the airwaves in Europe, undermines many things that we have been trying to do in Europe to promote the seal hunt.

With respect to the press release, it was not the department. It was an administrative error and should never have happened. I am not sure if the bill for the press release has gone to the Conservative Party of Canada, because I do not have that information, but that is who the bill was to go to.

Senator Cowan: On the last point, will you find out? Perhaps you would be good enough to table the invoice here and, as well, indicate whether it was paid.

Ms. Shea: Certainly.

Senator Cowan: With respect to the bill, you will agree with me that private members in either the House of Commons or in the Senate are entitled to introduce bills into their respective legislative chambers, and those bills are not necessarily supported by the party of whom that individual member or senator is a member. Is that correct?

Ms. Shea: I do not know what your experience has been, but normally bills, in my experience . . .

Senator Cowan: I am speaking of private member's bills.

Ms. Shea: … Even private member's bills, if a member of your party is bringing forward a bill, I would expect that members of your party would be aware of it.

Senator Cowan: As an example, the recent [Conservative MP Garry] Breitkreuz bill, is introduced by a private member, a Conservative member. Is that a bill supported by the Conservative government? Ms. Shea: We will have to wait and see. Senator Cowan: I believe it is not, and I believe the government has already distanced itself. That is my point. I suggest to you that it is unfair to allege that an individual bill which you know received no support from any member of the Senate has the support of the leader and the party of which that person is a member. I suggest that is unfair, and I would ask you to acknowledge that.

The Chair: I think the time has passed and I would like to go on to other questioners. We are trying to monitor the time carefully, and I think we are being as accurate as we can.

Categories: Politics/Conservatives, Politics/Liberals

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1 comment

  1. Anonymous says:

    I think Mr. Shea has a point when he talks about Party knowledge of Private Members bills. In previous Private Members Bills I've seen brought to the HoC, it has never been a secret that it's coming and the Party itself tends to do a little bit of spin-doctoring (for or against) in advance of the tabling of said Bill. Usually.
    I also agree that Senator Cowan has a point in that it's unfair to paint the entire Party as guilty of the same position based on a Private Member's Bill.
    That being said, the Liberal Party in both the HoC and the Senate should have immediately come out with a Position Statement given the controversial nature of the subject matter. That should have been a no-brainer.
    IF Senator Harb “went rogue” with no advance notice, I would also expect that some measure of discipline be taken within the party.

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