Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Why Linda Keen was right, even if the HoC overruled her

I had fun with my last post, but I did want to make one serious point about this whole nuclear business. Particularly, I wanted to address what seems to be one of the conservative talking points, which is that the all-party HoC decision to re-open Chalk River means Linda Keen was in the wrong.

Quite simply, that’s not what it means at all. As president of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, Keen was a bureaucrat and regulator whose job was…well, here’s what the Web site says:

The CNSC regulates the use of nuclear energy and materials to protect health, safety, security and the environment, and to respect Canada's international commitments on the peaceful use of nuclear energy. The CNSC’s mandate does not include regulating for economic objectives.

Her job was to regulate the safe use of nuclear energy in Canada. Chalk River was not up to standards, and had serious safety issues it wasn’t addressing. She had no choice but to take the action she did and order it shut down.

And it wasn’t within the scope of her job to consider economic issues related to the production of isotopes, or even health issues relating to their unavailability due to a reactor shutdown. She’s a regulator, she needs to enforce the rules. To weigh the risk of a meltdown vs. the need for medical isotopes is a political decision. For Keen to have waded into it would have been outside the scope of her job…you might have called it bureaucratic activism.

That balancing act was a political decision. Therefore, it should be made by politicians. And it was. The HoC met to consider the issue, heard from experts on both sides, and made the decision to overrule Keen and restart the reactor. That doesn’t mean Keen was wrong. It means the MPs decided to take the safety risk, deciding it was outweighed by the need for isotopes.

Only elected MPs could make that call, a bureaucrat/regulator could not. MPs who are accountable should their gamble fail.

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4 comments:

Gayle said...

Exactly.

Not only that, apparently Lunn was not altogether truthful when this was debated in the House, because he neglected to advise them of when he became aware of this issue. The debate may have been somewhat different if he had.

Apparently there was some technicality when this bill was passed that the opposition did it under protest. I cannot recall the exact language used - someone from the liberals mentioned that on Duffy tonight to counter the conservative claims that the motion amounted to a vote of non-confidence in Keen.

I thought McGuinty did a good job in the committee today - and he managed to get a lot of news coverage after too.

My guess is the conservatives know full well they had no grounds to fire her and they fully expect to lose the inevitable lawsuit. They are just hoping they will be governing in a majority when that happens.

900 ft Jesus said...

thanks for making that point, Jeff. It seems to be a big (but false) point with people defending ehr firing.

Mark Dowling said...

"And it wasn’t within the scope of her job to consider economic issues related to the production of isotopes, or even health issues relating to their unavailability due to a reactor shutdown. She’s a regulator, she needs to enforce the rules. To weigh the risk of a meltdown vs. the need for medical isotopes is a political decision."

Well hang on now - you're actually validating the government line, that Keen was given a political direction which encompassed "economic objectives" and she refused the order. The HoC did the same thing in a different way.

As for the inevitable lawsuit - they just have to fire her a second time. After all, it worked for Jean Pelletier the second time around. :)

Scotian said...

MD:

You are forgetting that the Minister, indeed the PM of a minority government has no such power, indeed even a majority PM would have to do what happened last December and pass legislation through the HoC to get that change, so Jeff is *NOT* validating the government's line on this, far from it. Keep in mind we are talking about an arms-length body which is accountable not to a government but to Parliament as a whole, and that it is highly inappropriate for any minister of the Crown to give specific input, suggestions, advice on any specific case/issue that the Commission is or will be dealing with.

They can draft general guidelines and such but they are specifically forbidden from getting involved in specific cases being heard by said arms-length body (as this is true not just for the nuclear regulator but all such arms-length bodies) which is why Keen in her letter was able to not only state this but cite the specific controlling legislation which confirms this, unlike the CPC government which to date has not cited a specific legislative authority for either their own actions or their claim that Keen had the authority to override because of the isotope shortage. Well, they did cite one for the latter, by pointing to the word "health" in the quote Jeff used in his post, but the problem with that is it reads more to be dealing with health in terms of those working in and/or living near an operational reactor, and not the health of Canadians more broadly, and without additional citations showing that the government's interpretation is the correct one and the one I just made is wrong they have no leg to stand upon.

Jeff:

You are exactly correct with this; I have been making the same point too regarding the fabrications coming from this government on this issue. Well done.