BC premier defends refunds to fish farms
VICTORIA - British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell is defending a controversial move to refund millions of dollars in fines and retroactive rents to fish farm operators.
CBC News reported Wednesday that the B.C. government made under-the-table payments to B.C.'s salmon farmers that environmentalists say were illegal.
The government admits the payments were made, but says they were legal. Campbell says there was a huge backlog of paperwork when the Liberals took power in 2001 and a decision was made by a provincial corporation, Land and Water B.C., that felt responsible for the delays.
The payments were made without ministerial or cabinet approval. But Campbell says Land and Water B.C. had the authority to act on the amount owing, and did what it thought was best for the public.
A number of fish farms had been assessed penalties for operating where they were not licensed to be. Internal government documents show the Liberals scrapped the penalties. In total, the fines forgiven totalled $812,000. On top of that rents were reduced at a cost of $1.5 million. B.C.'s Financial Administration Act says debts to the government "may not be forgiven without the approval of (the cabinet) if the amount is $100,000 or more."
Environmental groups say the payments were illegal if there was no ministerial approval and they're asking the auditor general to investigate why the fish farmers got a break and why it wasn't made public.