Can we draw a direct line between the Stephen Harper Conservatives and the listeria outbreak that has killed at least six (and now Quebec cheese is being recalled) in the same way the Walkerton tragedy can be traced back to cuts by the Mike Harris Conservatives? Perhaps not, although there is an argument to be made for "prime ministerial responsibility."
You can say, however, that the listeria situation serves to highlight exactly why Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party are the wrong people to be running this country. It serves to highlight that their ideological motivations and beliefs are in contradiction to the wishes, the desires, and the best interests of Canadians.
Yesterday, Maple Leaf Foods president Michael McCain fell on his sword, saying its his company that should shoulder the blame for this tragedy:
Also Wednesday, the president of Maple Leaf Foods said his company should bear the responsibility for the distribution of meat that led to the outbreak, effectively absolving the Canadian food safety system of blame.
"This week, it's our best efforts that failed, not the regulators or the Canadian food safety system," Michael McCain said at a separate news conference Wednesday in Toronto.
"I emphasize: This is our accountability and it's ours to fix, which we are taking on fully. We have and we continue to improve on our action plans," he said.
That's all well and good. The company is to blame he says, not the system. Well, the fact is we learned recently that the Harper government wanted to blow-up our food safety system. Harper and Gerry Ritz and Mike Harris-crony Tony Clement wanted to take government out of the equation, and turn responsibility for the safety of our food system over to the industry. To let them police themselves, so to speak.
A government plan to transfer key parts of food inspection to industry so companies can police themselves will put the health of Canadians at risk, according to leading food safety experts who have reviewed the confidential blueprint.
The plan, drafted by Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz and approved by the Treasury Board, details sweeping changes coming to food inspection in Canada.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is also ending funding to producers to test cattle for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, or mad cow disease) as part of a surveillance program, the document indicates, a move that is expected to save the agency about $24 million over the next three years.
The new system, part of a push to trim the agency's budget by five per cent, was approved last November, but a public announcement "has been deferred owing to significant communications risks," according to the confidential Treasury Board document obtained by Canwest News Service.
The document, addressed to the president of the agency, details how the inspection of meat and meat products will downgrade agency inspectors to an "oversight role, allowing industry to implement food safety control programs and to manage key risks."
Leading food safety experts, who reviewed the document, say the plan is a recipe for disaster.
We learned about these secret plans to gut Canada's food inspection system when a public servant blew the whistle and made them public. The government responded by firing the whistle blower, musing about criminal charges, and praising the person that outed the whistle blower. And they're stonewalling a parliamentary committee on the issue.
Speaking of Ritz, he too was insisting yesterday that the government system did its job in the listeria case:
Federal inspectors in charge of overseeing health standards at a Maple Leaf Foods processing plant at the centre of a deadly outbreak of listeriosis were doing their job properly, Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said Wednesday.
Ritz, joined by members of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada at a news conference in Ottawa, denied allegations that the federal inspector responsible for the plant was mired in paperwork and was not present on the floor of the plant.
Let's review. Both industry and government say it's industry that fell down here, and the government wasn't to blame. Harper is promising “reforms” to the system.
And what reforms were Ritz and Harper considering before this outbreak? They wanted to hand over the government's role to industry. That's right. They wanted to ax the side that they all say was working, and turn it over to the side they all say failed.
The conservative mantra of industry self-regulation makes no sense, and conservative ideology can't be allowed to dictate food safety policy in this country. Contrary to what Harper, Ritz and Clement were cooking-up, we need a BIGGER role for the CFIA and the government when it comes to food safety inspections, not a SMALLER role. Industry self-inspection is NOT the answer.
I think the CFIA needs to do a much better job. I think it needs to be reformed. But the answer isn't conservative ideology. When it comes to food safety, big government isn't a bad word. REGULATION isn't a bad word. We shouldn't be proposing cuts to the CFIA like the Conservatives. We should be investing more heavily in the CFIA, making sure it has the tools to perform its vital oversight role.
Conservative ideology being applied to arts funding is bad enough. We don't need it applied to something as vital as the safety of our food supply.
We don't know what happened yet, but we know the Conservative cuts are not the answer. I shudder to think what would have happened had the Conservatives had the chance to push these cuts through, and carry out their plan for industry self-policing. That they were even thinking of this is frightening. It's a failure of judgment, and we shouldn't give them another chance to make such a mistake. Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers