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Conservatives to kill meat inspection in western provinces?

Well, this listeriosis/meat inspection story seems to be taking on a life of its own. First the Minister Ritz controversy from last evening, and now we get this press release discussing the elimination of meat inspection programs in Manitoba:

If elected, a federal Conservative government plans to stop delivering provincial meat inspection programs in Manitoba leaving local consumers exposed to the risk of unsafe meat. The plan is revealed in a secret Treasury Board of Canada decision record, dated May 6, 2008, documenting the acceptance of a proposal concerning “Provincial Meat Slaughter Establishments (Manitoba, Saskatchewan, British Columbia)” which calls for the “elimination of federal delivery of provincial meat inspection programs.” “Meat produced in provincially registered facilities in Manitoba would not be inspected by anyone under this plan,” says Bob Kingston, President of the Agriculture Union – Public Service Alliance of Canada

I’ll have to read the document a bit further to see if they also propose cuts to the BC and Saskatchewan plants. It also mentions in this press release that the union has launched a website called www.foodsafetyfirst.ca. When you’re at that site, go to the “secret documents” page and there you’ll find a link to the PDF of the cabinet document (which I will provide an easy link to here), which is talking about the elimination of the meat inspection programs.

The news release goes on:

The government of Stephen Harper has steadily cut funding for food safety programs and shifted responsibility for safety assurance to the food companies themselves. According to current Treasury Board of Canada forecasts, funding for food safety programs will have declined by almost 30% from $359 million in 2006/07 to $254 million in 2010/11 under Mr. Harper’s watch. Meanwhile, the government plans to expand industry self-policing of safety. The same Treasury Board record also reveals plans to: “shift from full-time Canadian Food Inspection Agency meat inspection presence to an oversight role, allowing industry to implement food safety control programs and to manage key risks.”

Some of this we knew before, but I hadn’t realized the amount of cuts Harper had done for funding to food safety programs, so I thought it was worth repeating. As the release says, with the listeriosis tragedy the past few weeks, the government should be increasing food inspection, not cutting it, and that should also be the same for federal funding of the food inspection programs.

We are seeing the same pattern here with funding cuts and going away from testing as the Mike Harris Ontario government did with Walkerton. You know what happened there.. and the nation is seeing what is happening now with Listeriosis nation-wide. This is Conservative ideology playing with people’s lives, folks, and it needs to be stopped and reversed.

UPDATE: The Cabinet document does seem to state that the federal meat inspection programs in Saskatchewan and BC would also be eliminated in addition to Manitoba’s. The Food Safety First site summarizes it here.

UPDATE 2 @ 2:43 pm: Steve is right. This is more then just some offensive remarks by the Agricultural Minister, although those are important in the context of whether or not Ritz should be still a minister. But this information is important in asking Canadians what kind of governance they want, and whether or not they believe a reduction of food inspections and allowing companies to inspect themselves is the way they want to go, or not.

UPDATE 3 @ 2:48 pm: Great comment from Skinny Dipper here in this comments section: “Let’s transfer this great idea for Toronto restaurants. Instead of having municipal health inspectors checking on restaurants and giving them green signs for clean and safe restaurants, the restaurant industry can police itself. Green signs for everyone!”.

Yea.. I’m sure that would go over and work out real well.. so why do the Cons think this would be any better federally? Are they so ideologically against “government interference” and so pro “free enterprise” that they’re willing to sacrifice rigorous oversight on public safety, and instead ask the public to trust the food companies in a laissez-faire free-for-all when it comes to food safety?

UPDATE 4: I said last night in my original Ritz article that I’d give credit to a Blogging Tory if he condemned Ritz for his tasteless joke, and we have one:Atheist Conservative, who also calls for Ritz’s resignation. Very impressive.

Listeriosis deaths are real funny, eh Minister Ritz?

Apparently, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz thought that the Listeriosis outbreak and subsequent deaths due to it was absolutely hysterical:

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz unnerved some public servants at the height of the listeriosis crisis by resorting to gallows humour during a conference call about a public health scare that has now killed 17 people…Sources who took notes during the call said Ritz fretted about the political dangers of the crisis, before quipping: “This is like a death by a thousand cuts. Or should I say cold cuts.” . The disease was linked to cold cuts from Maple Leaf Meats. …when told about a new death in Prince Edward Island, Ritz said: “Please tell me it’s (Liberal MP) Wayne Easter.”

You’re a real riot, Ritz. I’m sure the families of the 17 people who’ve died from this outbreak really find your humour to be a balm for their losses. Let’s also not forget what I posted earlier – a Canadian Medical Association Journal editorial holds the Conservatives and their practises of removing the inspections from government inspections and letting the industry police/inspect its own meat to be partly responsible for this national tragedy, and criticizes the government for praising “the success of our infectious disease surveillance system — as if, with 16 dead, there were cause to celebrate — while food safety standards remain as low as ever.”

This isn’t the first Cabinet Minister to think Listeriosis is a joking matter – Health Minister Tony Clement decided to try his comedy out in Denver at the height of this outbreak, while he was meeting with oil executives, but Ritz is over the top.. and he should be fired (or his riding should fire him themselves, since Harper won’t bother to do so).

Hat tip to nottawa, who is on blogging fire today.

UPDATE @ 8:26 pm: Hoo boy. Harper goes nasty again when responding to the CMAJ editorial. There were multiple contributors to this article, and CBC kindly lists them for us:

The editorial was written by Amir Attaran, Canada Research Chair in Law, Population Health and Global Development Policy at the University of Ottawa, and journal editors Dr. Noni MacDonald, Dr. Matthew Stanbrook, Barbara Sibbald, Dr. Ken Flegel, Dr. Rajendra Kale and Dr. Paul Hébert.

Yet here is Harper’s response:

As he defended his government’s record on food and product safety, Harper also dismissed criticism in an editorial of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, of his government’s approach to food inspection in the listeriosis crisis. He said it was one author who said it, not the position of the medical association. “This author is in our opinion not someone who is credible.”

Putting aside the fact that Harper can’t count, as Montreal Simon says, Harper has now apparently added doctors to their growing list of people Conservatives consider to be enemies.

UPDATE 2 @ 8:59 pm; The Progressive and Liberal Blogosphere is starting to explode with outrage at Ritz’s remarks.

UPDATE 3 @ 9:09 pm: The Liberals have released a statement calling for Ritz’s resignation, but I sincerely hope they do more then just issue statements. I know some war rooms down south that would be already done making their campaign ads on this issue to point out Conservative insensitivity and the wrong policies that failed Canada on this issue.

UPDATE 4 @ 10:22 pm: More blogosphere reaction from the Progressive and Liberal blogs. I’ll give credit to a Conservative blog if it shows the same outrage toward these comments, by the way.

UPDATE 5 @ 11:06 pm: Good points made by The Jurist looking at this story from another angle – that being that no actions were obviously considered against Ritz until all of this went public, and Ritz’s complete lack of judgement in the matter.

UPDATE 6 @ 11:17 pm: And yet still more blogosphere reaction on this story. I think this story was neglected a bit as a campaign issue, as I mused earlier today, but thanks to Minister Ritz, that is the case no longer.

Anything But Conservative.

Your website link for the day: The title of the website is Vote Anything BUT Conservative. It’s been shortened down however to Anything But Conservative, or ABC.

Also, a nice link to Newfoundland Premier Danny William’s ABC site, as well as pointing to their “Anything But Conservative – Project ABC” Facebook group.

H/T: Nottawa

Canadian Medical Association Journal blasts Conservatives over listeriosis.

I’m surprised that the Listeriosis tragedy hasn’t been mentioned a lot more in this campaign, but with a Canadian Medical Association Journal editorial pinning at least some of the blame on the Conservatives for this tragedy, it may get a higher profile now.

The CMAJ notes that the Cabinet changed procedures in November 2007 so that inspection of ready-to-eat meats went from government inspectors to the meat industry. The result of that change was this:

In practice, the new policy meant that CFIA inspectors would rarely enter meat plants to test for bacteria and testing was left mostly to companies. Self-inspection came largely to substitute for, and not just to supplement, government inspection.

There is also mention of the Canadian government’s efforts to lobby the US to lower its standards for Listerisosis testing (the US allows no Listeriosis bacteria to be present, while Health Canada allows a maximum of 100 bacteria/gram).  It’s quite remarkable, really, that the Conservatives were advocating to the US that bacteria like this should be present in meat.  I think it’s fair to say that the perception in Canada is that in general, we have higher safety standards and health standards then the US which is supposed to be the country with a laissez-faire attitude toward government regulations (particularly under the Republicans), but here we are not trying to get our standards raised to theirs, but to get them to lower their standards to ours.

The CMAJ editorial continues on, blasting the Conservatives for trying to claim the system as it stands is a success:

Government policy errors helped bring about this epidemic. Yet surprisingly, government has taken no remedial steps beyond issuing a food recall. Instead, officials praise the success of our infectious disease surveillance system — as if, with 16 dead, there were cause to celebrate — while food safety standards remain as low as ever. The listeriosis epidemic is a timely reminder that the Harper government has reversed much of the progress that previous governments made on governing for public health.

There was one other thing in this editorial that caught my attention. They use polite terminology for it, but more or less the CPAJ is calling the initial call by Harper for a public inquiry on the Listeriosis outbreak  to be a sham, because the Devil is in the details, and if you look at the details,  this inquiry looks pretty toothless:

..the structure of the proposed investigation is deeply disappointing. According to the investigation’s terms of reference, listed on the prime minister’s website, no investigator at arm’s length from the government has been or will be chosen; the investigator will not have any power to subpoena witnesses or documents; the investigation will be closed to public participation; and there is no commitment to publish the investigator’s findings or to report to Parliament.  Such an investigation will be inferior to every epidemic inquiry in recent Canadian history. The inquiries into the tainted blood scandal, the Walkerton outbreak and the SARS epidemic all were arm’s-length exercises convened by an independent commissioner (usually a judge) who held open and public hearings and who wielded all the powers listed above.

In otherwards, Harper made a big show of announcing this public inquiry, but at the present, he has no intention of making it have any real power, and it will be a very closed-house secretive affair with no public accountability. The CMAJ editorial piece Canadians should demand better.  I agree, and I think this needs to be hammered on during the campaign trail.   2 things really – the fact that the inquiry as announced by Harper appears to be intended to be a white-wash, and needs to meet the standard of the SARS and tainted-blood inquiries, and  the fact that Conservative government’s mismanagement and wrong practises has helped contribute to this tragedy – not unlike what Mike Harris’s Conservative government did prior to the Walkerton tragedy.

I encourage you to read the whole CMAJ’s editorial.  The link to it is here

A break from politics, Part 2.

Alzheimer’s Disease sucks.  Read up on the disease and ways you can help the  Alzheimer’s Society of Canada, and in particular, consider holding an Alzheimer’s Society coffee break fundraiser. My mom decided to hold one this past Friday, setting 200$ for the afternoon as her fundraising goal, and she raised over 450$,  with more late donations rolling in.

May I also say cancer also sucks.  Find out more about how you can help defeat this insidious disease here

A political timeout (at least until this evening)

Family matters take precedence over politics today, so go read some very good blogs over at Progressive Bloggers or Liblogs for your political cravings. Be back after supper when I return to get the blog back to regularly scheduled blogging.

Conservatives own secret study supports a carbon tax.

This was first brought to my attention on Friday by a Green Blogger pointing out that the Green Party had used the Access to Information Act to reveal a secret Conservative government study that shows the economic costs of a carbon tax in Canada starting at 50$/ton are not only negligible to the economy in the first few years, but show a net positive for a carbon tax in raising Canada’s gross domestic product:

The report supports a carbon tax as an effective way to make significant cuts in greenhouse gas emissions and concludes that a $50/tonne tax on carbon would have an insignificant impact on the Canadian economy and would open tremendous economic opportunities. The model estimates this carbon tax shift would cut emissions by about 36 megatonnes (MT) by 2010, 59 MT by 2015 and 114 MT by 2030.. The report – Cost Curves for Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction in Canada: The Kyoto Period and Beyond – concludes that the GDP impact of a $50/tonne tax shift is less than 0.1% of GDP per year until 2010, is virtually zero during the next five years and is then positive after 2015. Further, the report projects net financial savings to those who take action as a result of the tax shift, after taking into account the investment in emissions reductions. At $50 per tonne, that windfall comes to $13.8 billion by 2010 and climbs from there.

You can understand why Harper and the Cons would hide this report, and why it would take a Freedom Of Information Act request to reveal it. This story has gotten many, many bloggers discussing the secret report and the Conservatives hypocrisy in not releasing it.

It has even got Senator Elaine Mccoy, the independent Progressive Conservative Senator from Alberta, writing today about the deceit of the Conservative government in hiding this report from Canadians. She also calls this government report on the carbon tax “very credible”.

If I were a media person, I might ask Harper or Environment Minister John Baird (if they can find him – he seems to have disappeared since the election call) their reaction to this report. Obviously, they didn’t like the conclusions if they decided to try and hide it. I might also remind them that Baird and Jason Kenney are on record as refusing to release the details (about the cost to consumers) of their so-called environmental plan until after the election. I might be asking if that’s really acceptable to be hiding such crucial details from the public during an election campaign. If the Conservatives are going to fear-monger over the Green Shift, when their own government report says a carbon tax higher then what the Liberals are currently proposing isn’t going to hurt the economy and indeed will eventually raise Canada’s GDP, they need to be called out on it. Furthermore, the simple questions to ask them are:

Where are your environmental plan’s details?
What are your plan’s proposed costs?
Why are you trying to hide them or not release them until after the election?

Canadians and the media at large should demand that the Conservatives put out the details of their environmental plan of what types of costs to consumers will be incurred by them under the Conservative plan to cut emissions of GHG. It is only fair, so we can compare the plans and allow Canadians to make a choice based on facts and statistics, rather then letting the Conservatives continue to fear-monger by saying stuff like Harper claiming the Green Shift will harm national unity, or even more ridiculous stuff like Conservative MP Cheryl Gallant claiming that the Liberals under the Green Shift would ban or tax firewood.

Demand the details.

Nanos Poll: Gap narrows to 6 points, Liberals release new ad.

There are a lot of polls out there. You also have a lot of newspapers declaring this and that over their particular poll they’ve sponsored without mentioning a thing about other polls that may contradict their specific pollster’s narrative. See the doom and gloom predictions of the Toronto Star and Jim Travers in this past Saturday edition for evidence of that.

Well, Nanos has come out with their tracking poll today, and it shows a tightening of the race down to 6 points between the Liberals and the Cons, down from 8 points the past 2 days. Note also the big undecided vote in that poll – this election is still in play, despite what some in the media would have you think. Decima is still showing a good lead for the Cons, but their poll is also trending well for the Liberals (they have gained back 6 points against the Cons in the past 2 Decima polls), and as BigCityLib and Steve say, the Conservatives policies and such may be coming under greater scrutiny now by the electorate… and the warm and fuzzy sweater ads may be wearing off.

With all that said, the timing of this new ad below to be played in the English language market by the Liberals is well-timed, in my view. It’s a little harder in tone, which I think is going to be necessary, but exudes a positive frame at the end.  Keep hitting them where it hurts, as Warren K. opines today, and don’t be afraid to hit hard.

UPDATE @ 3:52 pm: Warren approves of the new ad.

www.harperlied.com

This is a new blogsite that was brought to my attention this morning. It lists what the website considers to be Harper’s lies from last campaign. In addition, people can vote for what they consider to be Harper’s biggest lies during his time in government, and they can also send in/suggest other Harper lies that may not be listed here, which I presume the person running the website will add if he/she agrees with the reasoning why it would be considered a lie.  At the moment, income trusts leads the pack, but followed closely by several others. Check it out.

Exposing the “Conservatives are good for the economy” as a falsehood.

The Gazetteer asks a very good question over at his blog over why Conservatives are being perceived as good economic stewards in times of economic trouble:

Stephen Harper turned a $12 billion dollar surplus into a deficit in the BEST of times. And now that things are going sideways and he’s telling us that, in these times of ‘uncertainty’, that he’s the best man for the job? And we’re believing him!?

The answer is that the Liberals and others are not drawing enough attention to this. This falsehood needs to be hammered home by them in stump speeches and in ads; they shouldn’t be counting on the media to point […]

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