A few years ago I was debating the role of government with a young guy from Alberta.
Smart guy, not well educated, but very keen on small government and personal self-reliance.
He was holding his own, countering my arguments in favour of government services and functions that I considered not suitable for private-sector delivery or individual initiative.
Until I got to food and water safety. (I threw in restaurant inspections too. We'd just had a local brouhaha about dirty restaurants and as a young guy, he ate out a lot.)
He paused, thought about it, then agreed: we do need enforceable, arm's-length regulations for water and food. (This was after Walkerton but he hadn't lived in Ontario then.)
I've been thinking about this exchange as the tainted beef recall grows.
And I'm wondering, can we help make this scandal stick?
The Listeria 'scare' ('scare'? 23 people died) didn't stick, despite the incredible callousness of Agriculture Minister Ritz -- who still holds that portfolio.
The Listeria scare was undoubtedly a low point in the political career of Ritz, who faced calls for his resignation after The Canadian Press reported he was making jokes during a conference call with scientists, bureaucrats and political staff.Let's go back to the Walkerton inquiry.
Ritz later apologized for the remarks, which included describing the political dangers of the crisis as "death by a thousand . . . cold cuts" and expressing the hope that one of the victims of the outbreak would turn out to be Liberal MP Wayne Easter.
According to the local medical officer of health, it all could have been prevented. Dr. Murray McQuigge stunned the country with his revelation on CBC Radio on May 25, 2000 that the Walkerton Public Utilities Commission knew there was a problem with the water several days before they told the public.But the problems went back even further than that. Contaminated food and water are inevitable, given the neo-con view of government and government workers.
The public inquiry into the water tragedy in Walkerton, Ont. heard a strong condemnation of the Ontario government on Monday.Contempt. Where have we heard that before?
Dr. Richard Schabas, a former chief medical officer of health for the province said the government of Premier Mike Harris turned its back on public health by failing to tighten provincial water regulations.
Schabas says he resigned his post as Ontario's top medical health official in 1998 in frustration. He says during the late 1990s, the Conservative government of Mike Harris was bent on cutting the size of the bureaucracy, and getting rid of so-called 'regulatory red tape.'
Schabas says he was not consulted and recalled one meeting in which the premier literally turned his back as Schabas tried to voice concerns.
"This was a government that I think really held public institutions in contempt," he said. "And was contemptuous of people who worked in public institutions."
In 1997 Schabas called for a new law to force private labs to report water problems directly to health officials.
But at the time Ontario's minister of the environment refused, saying voluntary guidelines were adequate.
The Harper government too is keen on deregulation, privatization, and voluntary guidelines.
So what did bring an end to the catastrophic government of Mike Harris in Ontario?
The combination and cumulation of a bunch of outrages, no doubt. Ipperwash, Kimberly Rogers.
It didn't take long for a political battle to ensue. On May 29, 2000, a clearly shaken Ontario Environment Minister Dan Newman called a news conference to say changes would be made to ensure that the province's water supply remained safe.The majority of Canadians may not be interested in the many outrages perpetrated by the Harper government, but just about everybody can get behind 'no shit in my food or water'.
"If there is something positive that can ever come out of an event like this, it is that changes be made to ensure that it doesn't ever happen again," he said at the Ontario legislature.
The Ontario Tories lost the next election to the Liberals, who campaigned, in part, on providing safer drinking water.
Can the Fucking Useless Opposition® make this stick? I'll do my bit to help.
ADDED: Food safety workers among hardest hit by Harper budget cuts.
ADDED: Thomas Walkom agrees. *buffs fingernails*