Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Harper and Ritz Have Their Own Staff Investigating Them

As Canadians wait for answers regarding Conservative complicity in the Listeriosis Outbreak that took the lives of 22 people, we have discovered that they have stacked the team with their own staff.

So the expected report, that was to present guidelines for ensuring that this horrendous health crisis would not happen again, will be written by the staff of Gerry Ritz, presented to Gerry Ritz and he gets to decide what elements of it are presented to the public.

Of course the fact that the 'investigation' is being conducted by one of Harper's staff, will not sway the results at all, right?

Listeriosis investigator accused of conflict of interest
January 21, 2009
The Canadian Press

The woman appointed to probe last summer's deadly listeriosis outbreak has a glaring conflict of interest and can't credibly assess how public safeguards failed, critics say.

The Liberals, New Democrats and Bloc Québécois are all pushing for a full judicial inquiry into the disaster linked to Maple Leaf Foods.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper stopped short of that as he named Sheila Weatherill this week to lead an "arm's-length investigation."

He appointed the former Edmonton health care executive even though Weatherill already serves on the prime minister's advisory committee to revamp the public service.

Its mandate includes: "Branding the public service as a trusted and innovative institution of national importance."

Critics are asking how Weatherill can do that job while leading a probe into whether food safety agencies broke the public's trust.

"I think it's pretty clear: Ms. Weatherill can be a cheerleader for the public service, or she can be an independent investigator of the public service," said University of Ottawa researcher Amir Attaran, a lawyer and biologist by training. "But she can't be both at the same time. In ignoring that reality, Mr. Harper has foolishly failed once again to keep conflicts of interest out of his government."

Attaran co-signed an editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in the fall that charged that "government policy errors helped bring about" the listeriosis outbreak.

Changes to government monitoring mean Canada now has some of the lowest listeria standards among developed countries, it said. It demanded a full public inquiry into Canada's food inspection system.

A "proper inquiry, convened under the Inquiries Act and with a judge sitting as a commissioner of inquiry, is needed more than ever," Attaran said Wednesday.

Twenty people died after developing listeriosis — a particular threat to the elderly, pregnant women, and those with fragile immune systems.

Weatherill is to assess what went wrong, how federal food-safety and recall systems responded, and make recommendations to Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz.

Her report is due July 20. That's four months past the original March 15 due date outlined when Harper first promised the probe last September, a few days before calling an early federal election.

The prime minister's office says Weatherill won't publicly comment until her report is finished. The government will then decide what details to release.

Harper's office has deflected criticism for the delay in appointing Weatherill, saying it took time to find the right person for the job. Spokesman Kory Teneycke also dismissed Wednesday suggestions that she is in conflict.

"Quite the opposite," he said. "We think that Ms. Weatherill's commitment to strengthening the public service and attracting top-level people…is actually very consistent with her investigating how to improve the processes in government — both at the federal and provincial levels — and make recommendations so that if a similar situation were to occur in the future that the government response would be even better."

Liberal MP Wayne Easter said the Commons agriculture committee should investigate the listeriosis outbreak if Harper won't budge. His NDP and Bloc Québécois counterparts agreed that a transparent process with the power to compel sworn testimony is needed.

Of particular interest is the extent to which the Prime Minister's Office may have tried to micro-manage the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, which is supposed to be arm's-length, Easter says.

"The fact of the matter is her credibility has already been compromised in her ability to do the job," Easter said of Weatherill. "She will certainly be perceived…as a friend of the prime minister."

Weatherill's selection as a standard-bearer for public-service reform raised eyebrows for other reasons.

Alberta's auditor general took aim last October at some of the million-dollar salaries paid to heads of regional health boards, including Weatherill. She earned $915,000 a year as head of Edmonton's Capital Health until she and seven other top executives lost their jobs last July. Their dismissals were part of the provincial Conservative government's move to integrate separate health regions into one super board.

Auditor General Fred Dunn was harshly critical of the health boards that approved such salaries. "How and why did they arrive at this level of compensation?" he asked at the time. "In some cases, I don't believe it was as robustly negotiated as it should have been."

Weatherill was paid almost $3.5 million in a severance and retirement package under those contract terms.

Harper government continues to fail test of independence with regards to listeriosis probe
May 11, 2009

OTTAWA – Confirmation that listeriosis investigator Sheila Weatherill has hired employees from the very government departments that are at the centre of the probe shows that the Harper government has never been serious about an independent inquiry that will get to the bottom of what happened last summer, Liberal MPs said today.

In a written reply received on May 10th by the Parliamentary Sub-Committee on Food Safety, Ms. Weatherill confirmed that she has seconded six federal public servants from Agriculture & Agri-food Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the Public Health Agency of Canada and Environment Canada.

“Three of the departments and agencies directly involved in the listeriosis crisis of last summer – departments and agencies whose actions should be under scrutiny – have provided the staff for this investigation,” said Liberal Agriculture Critic Wayne Easter. “How can anyone honestly believe that this investigation is independent of government, when the majority of staff come from the government and departments under investigation?”

The Conservatives have been insisting that they are properly dealing with this matter since announcing back in January the appointment of Ms. Weatherill to head the investigation. At the time, the Prime Minister said: “I am confident that Sheila Weatherill has the expertise required to independently examine the factors that contributed to the listeriosis outbreak and make recommendations on how to prevent a similar occurrence in the future.”

“We have said from the beginning that the way this examination has been set up is the farthest thing from independentand it turns out we were right,” said Liberal Health Critic Dr. Carolyn Bennett. “We object to the limited mandate given to Ms. Weatherill by the Harper government. The resources and power given to her by Prime Minister Harper are too limited to reveal what actually happened. It’s why we have consistently called for an independent inquiry – so that Canadians will have all the facts and can rest assured that their food is safe.”

Mr. Easter concluded that it’s time for the government to admit that this inquiry fails the test of independence and is not at arms length. “There are no public hearings, no indication of who this investigator is interviewing and whose very report will be sent to Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, who is most directly involved in the government’s response to this crisis. That is not what Canadians expected and certainly not what they deserve,” he said.

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