For the first ministerial Senate Question Period of the year, fisheries minister Dominic LeBlanc was the special guest star. Leading off as always was Senator Larry Smith, who first wished LeBlanc well given his cancer treatment, and then asked about the impact of the Phoenix pay problem on the Coast Guard. LeBlanc noted that this was a problem and he was working with the senior management of the Coast Guard on the problem, he acknowledged that it was an unacceptable situation that was costing them personnel that had a cascading effect on their capacity, which is why they were trying to deal with it. Smith asked if there was a timeframe to sort it out, and LeBlanc said that because previous timeframes have slid, they were simply continuing to do the work to deal with the most urgent cases and working toward stabilising the system. Smith asked if this message was relayed personally to the Coast Guard members, and LeBlanc said that he had every time he visited a Coast Guard facility.
Senator Doyle asked about the Arctic surf clam quotas being cut and the impact it would have on local employment. LeBlanc responded that the government began a process around Indigenous communities partnering with offshore fishing companies to better accrue benefits, but disputed the characterisation about the 25 percent quota cut because they were still looking at proposals.
Senator Day asked about the protection measures for the right whales, and the changes to the snow crab fishery that was announced as a result. LeBlanc noted the concern for the whales, and that there were new crab fishing technologies were being tested to minimize the impact that it would have on the whales. Day followed up with a suggestion from the fishery to get the Coast Guard to open certain passages with ice breakers earlier in the season, and LeBlanc notes that they were drawing up operational plans but the availability of the ice breakers was still in question as there were other priorities.
Senator Bovey asked about the Oceans Act currently in the Other Place, and asked about what would be permissible actions in marine protected areas. LeBlanc spoke about core conservation objectives, and the advice he was seeking advice about minimum protection standards in order to get uniform standards across the country.
Senator Griffin asked about effluent discharge from a pulp mill in Nova Scotia that might affect PEI’s fishery. LeBlanc noted that he had heard from the premier on the issue, which LeBlanc noted that it spoke to the need for stronger oceans protection legislation, and that they were working with the government of Nova Scotia on the issue.
Senator Mockler asked about protection for Atlantic salmon, and LeBlanc spoke around the issue, and brought in the striped bass as part of the issue, and that he hoped to have some announcement to make soon on the issue.
Senator Plett raised the issue of cetacean capture in the new fisheries bill, and worried that activists would try to push things further. LeBlanc noted that he has followed the debate on the Senate bill on cetacean capture, which is why he included it in the Fisheries Act bill, but also noted that some of this was provincial jurisdiction, which was why he tried to find the right balance.
Senator Cordy asked about owner-operator licences with the inshore fishery in Atlantic Canada, and changes that entrenched current policy into law. LeBlanc noted that there were concerns over allowing companies to own those licences, which was why they were trying to keep the current policy.
Senator Christmas asked about Mi’kmaq fishing rights and ongoing concerns around them, and LeBlanc stated that they were working with the Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia to ensure that they made their fishing rights were fully implemented, but while there was progress they had more work to do.
Senator Forest asked about infrastructure investments for small boats in Gaspé, but they also apparently had funds that weren’t being used. LeBlanc noted they had conversations about the need for those investments, and that the budget was coming down in two weeks so he hoped they could continue investing in those ports.
— Dale Smith (@journo_dale) February 13, 2018
Overall, it was nice to be back to ministerial questions in the Senate, but I will admit that some of these questions were a bit in the weeds for me, and it didn’t help that LeBlanc had a bit of a tendency to dissemble a bit in his responses, so it was easy to get lost in what he was saying. That having been said, there were plenty of questions of substance and almost no partisan point-scoring on the part of the opposition, so that was also refreshing after some of the grinding QPs we’ve been enduring in the Commons over the past few weeks.
Sartorially speaking, snaps go out to Senator Peter Harder for a dark grey three-piece suit with a white shirt and a blue striped tie, and to Senator Yonah Martin for a medium grey dress with a blue jacket. Style citations go out to Senator Ratna Omidvar for a boxy moss and brown jacket with black slacks, and to Senator Paul McIntyre for a dark grey suit with a greyish mustard shirt and striped tie. Dishonourable mention goes out to Senator Raymonde Gagné for a black dress with a yellow geometric pattern across the font panels and sleeves.