(Still image of House of Commons video showing Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq reading a newspaper during Question Period Monday while debate raged about the Harper government’s food subsidy program for the North.)
APTN National News
OTTAWA–Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq was caught on camera reading the newspaper while debate raged around her in Question Period Monday about a food crisis in Nunavut.
Aglukkaq has said she is considering legal action against Rankin Inlet’s deputy mayor Sam Tutanuak who claimed the minister tried to extract an apology during a phone conversation with the Nunavut hamlet’s senior administrative officer.
Aglukkaq has flatly denied she tried to get an apology for Tutanuak’s comments to APTN Investigates that high grocery prices in the community had forced people to scavenge for food at the local dump.
Aglukkaq’s office also denied claims from five different MPs that she yelled ‘that’s not true’ during Question Period last week when the NDP brought up the issue of Inuit searching for food in the dump.
The Auditor General of Canada released a scathing report last Monday on the management of the Harper government’s food subsidy Nutrition North program. Auditor General Michael Ferguson said Ottawa had no idea whether the program was working or if Northern grocery retailers were passing on the government subsidy for perishable foods like vegetables.
The NDP again pressed Aglukkaq on the issue in Question Period Monday, with NDP Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair using his final question to hammer the Nunavut MP on the issue.
“We all heard her shameful response when she heard about people scavenging out of a landfill in her own riding. She shouted from her seat that it was not true. Now she is suing local authorities in Rankin Inlet for daring to say that it is,” said Mulcair. “Let us look at that style of crisis management: deny the truth, then deny that she is denying the truth, then personally attack the leaders who dare tell the truth. Will she apologize today to the people of Rankin Inlet for disrespect, her threats and her dishonesty?”
House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer intervened because Mulcair used the word “dishonesty” which is deemed “unparliamentarily language.” Yet, Scheer still gave Aglukkaq the option to respond, but she took a pass.
Cree NDP MP Romeo Saganash then took up the issue in the second round of NDP questions.
“We are facing a real food crisis in the North as a result of the failure of the Conservative’s Nutrition North program,” said Saganash. “Instead of helping them, their own MP threatens a warning. It is shameful. Is the minister going to drop this attempt of legal bullying and help them, at least?”
Aglukkaq responded saying, “those allegations are completely false.” She then accused the NDP of voting against investments in the North, including a highway from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk in neighbouring Northwest Territories.
“That party continues to vote against those kinds of investments on a regular basis,” said Aglukkaq.
Then Saganash, with a rare display of fire, said Aglukkaq had nothing to teach him about the North.
“My record of my last 30 years in the North is quite brighter than hers. I have no lessons to take from the minister,” said Saganash.
Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt then stepped in to respond to Saganash. Aglukkaq picked up a newspaper and started to read as the debate raged.
Valcourt handled two more questions from NDP Aboriginal affairs critic Jean Crowder.
Aglukkaq did put down the newspaper to respond to a question later from Liberal Aboriginal affairs critic Carolyn Bennett.
“Recent footage of residents in Rankin Inlet scavenging for food at the dump did not prompt the environment minister, their MP, to acknowledge the problem. Instead, she savagely attacked the community’s deputy mayor for pointing it out,” said Bennett. “Rather than suing community leaders, will the current government finally deal with the reality that people in Northern Canada cannot afford to feed their families?”
Aglukkaq said Bennett was making things up.
“Those allegations are completely false. If that member has any evidence of that, I would encourage her to produce that evidence so that I can deal with it in the House. However, they are absolutely false,” said Aglukkaq. “No one knew for 30 years there was even a food subsidy going to the North. It was a Liberal decision to have the program fund an airline. The people in the North were the first—the last thing on their minds, was to subsidize an airline and to subsidize a community in Quebec, Val-d’Or.”