Environment Minister Catherine McKenna’s office scripted questions for Senate hearings on a contentious oil and gas bill, according to an email disclosed yesterday. Senator Jean-Guy Dagenais (Conservative-Que.) revealed the four-page guide of ghostwritten questions to be fed to agreeable members of the Senate energy committee.
“I have here a written communication from a high-placed official from January 28 which states the Minister’s Office asked staff to write a list of questions,” said Senator Dagenais: “Have you or members of staff prepared questions for Senators to get out your message?”
The January 28 email was written by Jennifer Dorr, a senior environmental assessment officer for the Department of Natural Resources. Dorr sent the notice to nine staffers in three departments with the subject heading Supportive Questions.
“We have been asked by the Environment Minister’s Office to develop a list of questions regarding Bill C-69 that we would like to proactively answer at the Senate energy committee,” read the email. “The Minister’s Office will work with Senators to feed these questions into committee, and if Senators choose to ask those questions of officials, then it’s an opportunity to highlight some of the features of the bill and to do some ‘myth busting’ of what’s been heard this fall.”
Bill C-69 An Act To Enact The Impact Assessment Act would requiring that energy and pipeline projects undergo climate change and Indigenous impact assessments. Four provinces to date have opposed the bill as onerous: Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Newfoundland & Labrador. Cabinet has asked the Senate to pass the Act into law by May 30.
“Do all members of cabinet prepare questions for Senators?” asked Senator Dagenais. “Can you provide a list of Senators who will be parroting questions from your staff?”
Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, speaking in Senate Question Period, declined comment on the email. “I do not parrot anything,” said McKenna. “I don’t read off notes.”
“I am happy to answer any question that a Senator desires to ask me,” said McKenna. “Yes, we prepare answers to questions because I don’t know everything. I am not an expert on every file.”
The email asked staff to draft answers for department witnesses for vetting by Maia Welbourne, assistant deputy minister of natural resources. “Maia has also requested to see the suggested answers that would be provided by officials,” said the note.
The email detailed 26 ghostwritten questions to be fed to Senators on Bill C-69 including: “Why is this necessary?” “Can you tell me exactly what the benefits would be?” “What is meant by flexibility?” and “What is the government’s plan to address broader concerns?”