Doing right by frogsPosted in Political Bytes Posted on May 28, 2009 04:47 PM | Permalink
There was a fuss at the Commons environment committee today over whether Environment Minister Jim Prentice is meddling with the independent agency that studies endangered species.
The issue erupted after Jeffrey Hutchings, chair of the committee on the status of endangered wildlife in Canada, fondly known as COSEWIC by its followers, told MPs that the reappointment of one of its most valuable scientists was rejected by the minister.
COSEWIC keeps an eye on the status of wild species — everything from fungi to frogs — that are considered to be at risk of extinction.
Hutchings said David Green from McGill University, one of Canada's top amphibian experts, was on COSEWIC's list of scientists to be reappointed to the advisory body. Green has served on the body since 1995.
But Hutchings said that in February, Prentice rejected Green from a list of seven appointees, saying he felt the committee needed " a mix of old and new members."
Hutchings says the minister's decision makes it harder for the advisory body to do its job and maintain neutral status as the rejection "might be perceived to influence the independence of COSEWIC."
Opposition MPs wanted to know if Hutchings felt the minister was actually meddling in the appointments for political reasons. But Hutchings said he is not sure that was the case, only that Prentice's actions could leave the wrong impression.
"It could lead to a perception by people outside of the committee of interference," Hutchings said. "I'm not saying there necessarily was interference because it is the minister's prerogative to do that."
Prentice is out of the country at the moment, but his spokesman explained the decision this way:
"The minister believes that committees should be composed of both returning and new qualified members. In this instance, we applied that principle.
"Each member of the committee gave a valuable contribution, but it was time to renew the composition of the committee."
Meanwhile the man in the middle, McGill's David Green, says he was taken aback when he found out his services were no longer needed.
"I was surprised. I mean this has never happened before (on the committee). It would be nice to know why I was not reappointed."
Green's position on COSEWIC has not yet been filled. So he's still doing the work anyway, monitoring and reporting on the condition of amphibians, some of the country's most fragile species.
"I wasn't on the committee to make money," he says. "I was on the committee to do right by frogs."
— Margo McDiarmid
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