Rushed 'Animal Health Act' is seriously flawed  

Posted

What a week in the Legislature! Just in the last few days the BC Liberals began rushing through eight different pieces of legislation.

The problem with such haste is that legislators don't have time to do their job properly.

Take, for example, the "Animal Health" Bill introduced and pushed through to second reading just this week. This is an important piece of Legislation that is in my sights as the Official Opposition Critic for Agriculture.

This large and complex bill repeals or replaces four existing Acts. It's primary purpose is to give the Chief Veterinarian extraordinary powers in times of animal disease outbreaks or related emergencies.

I'm sure we can all agree that the government requires wide-ranging powers during such a crisis.

However, in rushing this bill through the Liberals are creating a set of new problems.

One of those is created by this Bill's provisions to exempt animal disease reporting from Freedom of Information requests.

It is very important that the media, scientists and other concerned individuals have access to information about animal disease outbreaks in this province. British Columbians have a right to know - our own health is at stake. And of course there are serious concerns for the welfare of animals, the economic impact of disease outbreak and food security.

And yet, the Liberals have explicitly excluded the information collected through the authority of the Chief Vet from the Freedom of Information and Privacy Protection Act.

For a government that claims to put openness and accountability at the forefront, it is outrageous that they would unnecessarily embed language that is specifically designed to override FIPPA.

And don't just take my word for it. Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham today released a long and scathing letter making exactly this point.

The government will argue that commercial interests require this gag clause. But FIPPA already accommodates the legitimate requests of private business to limit the release of commercially damaging information.

And I'd be the first person to come forward and defend the rights of farmers, but this legislation gives the government sweeping powers to shirk the public interest, and that’s way over the line.

As my colleague and Opposition House Leader John Horgan has noted, the spring legislative session has seen 28 bills tabled to date, including eight this week. To quote MLA Horgan: "the Liberals are showing once again they have a total disrespect for the legislative process.”

There are a number of other significant problems with the Animal Health Bill.  I look forward to challenging the Liberal MLAs on their flawed process of developing legislation and the flawed legislation that is the result.

BC deserves better.

Lana Popham
MLA Saanich South and Opposition Critic for Agriculture