Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Surprise! Trio of Ministers Shows Up Unexpectedly for Environment Hearings: Trio of Ministers Drops in on Budget Hearings

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Surprise! Trio of Ministers Shows Up Unexpectedly for Environment Hearings: Trio of Ministers Drops in on Budget Hearings

Article excerpt

OTTAWA - Three cabinet ministers made a surprise appearance at the subcommittee looking into the environment provisions in the government's massive budget bill -- raising questions about the Conservatives' commitment to giving the bill a full hearing.

Environment Minister Peter Kent, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver and Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield popped up at the subcommittee hearing Thursday morning, without advance public notice.

They stayed for just over an hour, delivering prepared statements and taking MPs' questions.

It was the subcommittee's first hearing into the parts of the bill that will overhaul environmental assessments and change surveillance of fisheries.

Opposition members complained they were given little opportunity to grill the ministers over fundamental changes to Canada's environmental framework, and accused the Conservatives of trying to stifle debate.

The Conservatives have loaded the budget bill with dozens of major changes to the way government works, saying they are lumping them all together because they want to get the legislation passed quickly.

"Whoever took the decision to schedule our three ministers for one hour was not acting on the authority of the subcommittee," said Liberal MP Kirsty Duncan.

"I feel it was presumptuous, it was undemocratic, and I think it's farcical to have three ministers appear at the same time for a total of one hour.

"Taking away time for opening statements and friendly questions from the government, that gives about 20 minutes for the opposition parties to ask questions of three different ministers on 150 pages devoted to the environment on this omnibus bill."

Duncan tried to make the most of her time by asking short, pointed questions and requesting that detailed, written answers be tabled with the committee later.

Kent said he would be pleased to appear before the subcommittee again.

And his spokesman said there was nothing nefarious about the sudden appearance of the ministers, since Kent had signalled earlier this week that he would appear soon.

Spokesman Adam Sweet said the hearing was televised, and that New Democrat MP Peter Julian was told in advance the ministers would be there. …

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