Agriculture Minister Lana Popham hugs George Quocksister, one of the leaders of a two-month protest occupation of Marine Harvest salmon farms, at a fundraiser for Courtenay-Comox MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard in Courtenay, Oct. 21, 2017. At left is Alexandra Morton, anti-fish farm activist who has also participated in the protest. (Facebook)

Premier John Horgan’s deputy to probe B.C. salmon health research

Opposition presses Lana Popham on allegations about scientist

Premier John Horgan has called in his deputy minister and head of the B.C. public service, Don Wright, to sort through allegations of conflict of interest at a B.C. government lab in Abbotsford in charge of livestock and farmed salmon health.

Agriculture Minister Lana Popham continued to defend her actions at the B.C. legislature Wednesday, after it emerged she had phoned Fisheries and Oceans Canada scientist Kristi Miller to ask about Miller’s complaint of conflict of interest on the part of a researcher in the agriculture ministry lab in Abbotsford.

Horgan said the allegation, which aired on the CTV program W5 on Oct. 15, was serious enough to warrant a review by Wright. The B.C. Liberal opposition has seized on the issue and “blown it up like an atomic bomb,” Horgan said.

Popham has been under fire since last week, when her letter to salmon farm operator Marine Harvest was made public. She has denied that the letter represented a threat to cancel the company’s salmon farm tenures in the Broughton Archipelago area north of Vancouver Island.

RELATED: Popham warned salmon farm not to restock

In question period Wednesday, Horgan took all questions directed at Popham, including whether she had misled the legislature by claiming there was a request by Fisheries and Oceans Canada to investigate the Abbotsford lab.

Speaking to reporters after question period, Popham said she did not mislead the legislature, and “there is no investigation.

“We’re undertaking a review, and that’s been handed off to the public service, because that’s the right way to go about it, and I’m confident that review will come back with a recommendation about whether we investigate or not,” Popham said.

She refused to comment on the status of provincial researcher Dr. Gary Marty, but confirmed that Miller had described an apparent conflict of interest involving Marty in relation to salmon farm research at the Abbotsford lab.

Protesters including anti-salmon farm activist Alexandra Morton and aboriginal activist George Quocksister have occupied two Marine Harvest salmon farms since late August.

RELATED: First Nations occupy Marine Harvest fish farm

Popham was asked why a Facebook photo appeared to show her celebrating with Morton and Quocksister at an NDP fundraiser in Courtenay on Oct. 21, at which Popham was the featured speaker.

“I attended a fundraiser for an event,” Popham replied. “I was met by protesters at the door, and I engaged with them respectfully as I would with any protesters who met me at the door.”

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