Simple Remedy In Gelinas Case
Date: Thursday, February 01 2007
Yes, anti up PM and MPs. 4Canada
Feb 01, 2007 04:30 AM
In Ottawa, all federal political parties are bewailing the firing of Environment Commissioner Johanne Gélinas.
Conservative Environment Minister John Baird has praised what he calls her "critical work," particularly those of her scathing reports that were aimed at the previous Liberal regime.
The Liberals too say they love her. "She has been a tremendous commissioner," party leader Stéphane Dion said on Tuesday, after Gélinas was fired by her boss, Auditor General Sheila Fraser.
Needless to say, the New Democrats think Gélinas is swell. So do the Greens. To the Bloc Québécois, Gélinas is not only a warrior in the great fight against global warming but a Quebecer.
In short, she seems to have all-party support for her efforts to expose, in a delightfully non-partisan manner, the shamefully inadequate manner in which successive governments have dealt with the environment.
So here's a solution to the problem posed by Fraser's decision to fire this outspoken watchdog. If all of the federal parties like Gélinas so much, why don't they change the law that currently subordinates the environment commissioner to the whims of the auditor general? Why don't they have the commissioner report directly to legislators – as Ontario does?
And then why don't they hire Johanne Gélinas to do the job?
Then she can continue to lambaste the current government – as she did last September, when she blasted Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives for failing to come up with a serious plan to combat climate change.
If the Liberals win the next election, she can go back to lambasting them – just as she did in 2005 when she described the government of then-prime minister Paul Martin (and his environment minister Stéphane Dion) as shockingly incompetent.
Up to now, the Conservatives have dodged the issue about who gets to hire and fire the environment commissioner. Baird says that decision is up to the auditor general and there's nothing he can do about it.
In fact he can. He can introduce a bill to change the law. That's what governments do. And if the other parties are sincere in their desire to have an independent environmental watchdog, they can unanimously support a bill to make this post directly responsible to Parliament. It could be law by next week.
Once such a law were in place, who would better fit the bill than Gélinas?
A former member of Quebec's environmental assessment board, she was hired by then auditor general Denis Desautels in 2000 to fill a post that had been created just five years earlier.
Exactly why the environment commissioner came under the authority of the auditor general is unclear. But at the time, it seemed a technicality. Both were watchdogs; both were charged with making annual reports – not to the government of the day but to Parliament.
Over the years, Gélinas criticized Ottawa for its failure to clean up the Great Lakes and its casual attitude toward toxic chemicals.
Her 2003 report took Health Canada regulators to task for approving pesticides without knowing whether they were harmful. Her 2004 report accused the then-Liberal government of lacking the political will to tackle climate change. A year later, she accused the same Liberal government of chronic bad management.
This fall, it was the Harper government's turn to feel the lash. The Conservatives, she wrote, lacked a plausible plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Gélinas took special aim at the Alberta oil sands development – a sacred cow among Harperites – for the massive amounts of carbon dioxide it produces.
[Proofreader's note: this article was edited for spelling and typos on February 2, 2007]