Liberals demand probe of nuclear watchdog head's firing

CBC News: Fred Chartrand - January 24, 2008

The federal Liberals are calling on the Harper government to appoint an independent, non-partisan tribunal to review the dismissal of Linda Keen as president of Canada's nuclear safety watchdog.

Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn says there's no need for an inquiry into the dismissal of Linda Keen as the president of Canada's nuclear safety watchdog.

"Since its unprecedented midnight firing of Ms. Keen, the Harper government has failed to account for a string of decisions that have run roughshod over fundamental principles of good governance," Liberal MP Omar Alghabra said in a statement.

"It's time to take the politics out of this process," Alghabra added. "This is why we need an independent panel to examine what was behind the decision to fire Ms. Keen and whether it was based on just cause."

Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn dismissed Keen from her post last Tuesday, hours before both were set to appear before a House of Commons committee to discuss the shutdown of the medical isotope-producing nuclear reactor in Chalk River, Ont.

At the natural resources committee, Lunn defended his decision to fire Keen, saying she lost the government's confidence over the way she handled the nuclear reactor case late last year.

NDP endorse call for probe:

The Liberal's call for an investigation received endorsement from the NDP, which called for a similar assessment as part of a motion before the natural resources committee two weeks ago.

Alghabra said he wants the panel to be made up of non-partisan public policy experts and they should be given access to any information necessary to complete the review. Findings should be presented to Parliament within four months, Alghabra demanded.

But Lunn dismissed opposition calls for an inquiry, noting that Parliament unanimously passed emergency legislation last month to overturn her decision.

He criticized the opposition for wanting "to have it both ways," because all parties voted to restart the reactor.

"There's absolutely no need for an inquiry. There will not be one," he said.

Ordered to close in November:

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission president ordered the 50-year-old reactor to close its doors last November after the operator, Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., failed to install safety upgrades.

The closure of the plant, which produces two-thirds of the world's medical radioisotopes, led to shortages of the material used in imaging and diagnostic tests.

Lunn directed the CNSC to reopen the site on Dec. 10, but the watchdog refused, insisting the backup safety system was necessary to prevent meltdown during disasters such as earthquakes.

Shortly after, the government enacted emergency legislation overruling Keen's decision.

Opposition MPs widely criticized the government's decision to let Keen go, saying it interfered in an arm's-length agency.

Liberal MP Marcel Proulx says not only did Lunn fail to provide a reason for firing the CNSC president, but he also repeatedly tried to interfere in the decisions of the quasi-judicial institution for weeks.

"It looks as though the only interest that was being protected by this decision was Mr. Harper's partisan interest _ he found a convenient scapegoat and silenced Ms. Keen in the dead of night _ hours before she was due to appear before a House of Commons committee," Proulx said in a statement.

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