The Progressive Conservatives and the New Democratic Party are calling on Fisheries and Land Resources Minister Gerry Byrne to resign following attacks made against two members of their caucuses.
In Thursday’s Question Period in the House of Assembly Mount Pearl North MHA Jim Lester asked Byrne about whether farmers should be allowed to shoot moose on their property.
Byrne suggested “maybe this hon. member is not always on the side of the law himself.”
When St. John’s Centre MHA Jim Dinn questioned whether Northern Harvest Seafoods were required to have a plan to deal with warm water events like the one that caused 2.6 million farmed salmon to die on the province’s south coast, Byrne accessed Dinn of a “pattern of behaviour” in marginalizing voices of Indigenous populations.
Tory Leader Ches Crosbie and NDP leader Alison Coffin held a joint news conference on Friday, calling for Byrne’s removal as Fisheries and Land Resources Minister because of the accusations.
“This is the option we’re at now. Certainly, you look at the timeline from Mr. Dinn’s involvement with this, for the last two months he has tried to get some answers on why the fish die-off has happened. How we can have an independent investigation? He’s called for clarity on privacy, and yet we see Mr. Byrne becoming more and more embedded and ensconced in the defence of his behaviour,” said Coffin.
“Obviously, he does not want to co-operate. This is particularly concerning. We’re in a minority government. If we’re seeing that this minister doesn’t want to co-operate on something that really should be cooperated on – public accountability – then we have no choice but to make this move.”
Crosbie says Byrne isn’t doing himself any favours by doubling down.
“By the way, the government still has not brought in the legislation it has to bring in to address harassment, which was agreed on by the relevant House committees,” said Crosbie.
“I just want to say, Mr. Byrne should get a lecture from the Premier, which doesn’t seem to be happening. There’s an old adage: when you’re in a hole, stop digging. He’s still digging. He’s going to end up in China before long.”
Later Friday Byrne chose to keep "digging."
“I make no apologies whatsoever for calling out racist comments. If that is perceived to be a personal, that something that should be captured within a personal cone, I don’t agree with that. I will never, ever apologize for calling out racist comments,” said Byrne in a news conference on Friday morning.
Byrne also did not walk back his accusations against Lester, pointing to Lester’s comments that “a bullet goes just as far in the day as it does in the night.” Byrne correctly notes that hunting at night is illegal.
Byrne’s allegations against Dinn stem from a July 2018 meeting where a member of the Salmonid Association of Eastern Newfoundland (SAEN) said including Indigenous peoples in consultations was “kowtowing” to them.
Dinn says Byrne has mischaracterized what happened.
“To me, I think it would do Minister Byrne well to reflect on what happened and to reassess his own memory of that meeting, as to what happened,” said Dinn.
“I would suggest that unlike Minister Byrne, I can back up what I’m saying. It’s as simple as that.”
Dinn says the incident Byrne keeps referring to was handled appropriately.
“I can tell you that the members of SAEN that were there were not laughing at anything. I can tell you that the gentleman who made the comments offered his resignation and it was accepted at the end of it. I filled in the role in terms of doing the office stuff. We hired a new person and since that time, that’s how we handled it,” he said.
“Mr. Byrne asked for a retraction and the gentleman retracted. I don’t know what else could be done. It’s unfortunate.”
The Premier's Office did not respond to a request for comment for this story by deadline.