The two giant Chinese pandas, Da Mao, a four-year-old male, and Er Shun, a five-year-old female, jetted into Toronto today to much fanfare. Prime Minister Stephen Harper was on hand to give them the VIP welcome. Did you know that the Conservatives were prepared to keep Canadians in the dark about the full details of the prime minister’s personal efforts in securing the pandas. A newly-released Environment Canada internal memo reveals that Harper and former environment minister Jim Prentice secured the deal.
That’s the fact the government – via Environment Canada – tried to conceal from Canadians.
The memo reads:
Attempts to strike a deal on pandas have been floated for more than a decade, but only began to progress quickly when Prime Minister Harper personally raised the matter with Wu Bangguo, Chairman of the National People’s Congress, in Beijing in December 2009, and former Minister Prentice signed a letter of support on behalf of the Government of Canada. Detailed negotiations began with the Consortium during their visit to Beijing in October 2010, and by March 2011, an agreement had been reached with the Chinese Association of Zoological Gardens (CAZG) who are in charge of zoos and international agreements.
Postmedia News requested for the memo in 2012. Environment Canada responded “by denying access to sections that mentioned Harper as well as other details about the loan of the bears.” The agency only release the memo after the intervention of the office of Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault.
According to Postmedia News’ Mike De Souza Environment Canada also tried to “redact the word “loan” from the memo’s title – “Giant panda loan for Canadian zoos” – and other references to the “loan” throughout the document. It revised these redactions following the investigation.”
The pandas are expected to spend the next five years at the Toronto Zoo, before moving to Calgary for the second half of their ten year stay. At a cost of $1 million a year to the taxpayer.