Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Stephen Harper Managing us While Others Manage Risk

In part one of the documentary The Nation's Deathbed, we witness political activism against the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP), with the battle cry "People united will never be defeated." A powerful message but is the message falling on deaf ears? Latest polls certainly would indicate that, though polls outside of an election are rarely indicative of future election results.

In 2005, the new Reform-Conservative Party was at 23% and Stephen Harper's leadership at 14%, and we all know how that turned out.

But another important part of this segment, is the new Canadian standards. At one time a CSA label on a product, really meant something. It may have hindered the ability of our trading partners to market goods here, but we didn't care. Part of our sovereignty was about the safety of Canadians.

However, there has been an erosion of those standards, and in 2007, when Harper met with then U.S. President Bush and Mexican President Calderon in Montibello, a deal was struck that pretty much eliminated government standards on goods from these two countries. Many believe that H1N1 is a direct result of that and in fact some have dubbed it the 'NAFTA Flu'.

We saw evidence of these new product safety standards with the Listeriosis outbreak, which actually provides an excellent example of how the new agreement works.

Instead of government officials doing food inspection, the move is toward allowing food processors (and indeed all industry) to inspect themselves. Then when something goes wrong, which it inevitably does, a scheme they call 'Risk Management' takes over. According to the Council of Canadians:

"At the heart of both systems is a reliance on industry reporting and monitoring, rather than independent government testing, and an emphasis on cleaning up the mess (to the environment or human lives) caused by bad products after the fact. They call this “risk management,” an about-face from the “precautionary principle” of better safe than sorry."

Under the RM plan, industry can police themselves but if something goes wrong, they will bear the brunt of it. Hence the Maple Leaf ads, that gave the appearance of a company that cared. In fact these ads were a mandatory part of the new agreement.

And before we think that taxpayers will benefit from not having to pay public servants to act as food police, remember that 22 people died from that tainted meat. And how many more outbreaks are there in the works, from listeriosis or some other contaminant? What will the death toll be then? There is a reason to have these controls and to have these inspections.

Listeriosis Timeline and Why a 'Risk Management' Scenario is Wrong:

1. Stephen Harper decides to allow food plants (and others) to inspect themselves under a 'cleaning up your own mess' agreement, gradually phasing out government food inspection.

2. Maple Leaf foods do that, but with no one policing them, profit takes centre stage.

3. Before the Listeriosis outbreak became public, a biologist working for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, blew the whistle on the cutbacks that were removing food inspections from government responsibility, and turning them over to the industry itself. He was fired.

4. News of the outbreak of Listeriosis from tainted meat hits, and in a conference call Gerry Ritz, the minister in charge of food safety, finds it all rather amusing.

5. A year after the outbreak the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is stating that they are not being given the resources to do their job (sound familiar?) and threaten that another outbreak is likely.

6. We were warned that this type of 'privatization' was just the beginning: "The listeriosis outbreak that has killed 20 Canadians could be "the tip of the iceberg" both in terms of food safety dangers and risks from other federal cutbacks, according to Agriculture Union President and food inspector Bob Kingston."

7. Harper sets up a bogus panel to investigate the situation, but stacked the team with his own staff.

8. Gerry Ritz promises to hire more meat inspectors, but does no such thing.

9. The final report makes the recommendation that they hire an independent auditor to ensure outbreaks like this are prevented. Ritz gives the job to his own assistant, which effectively means that they inspect themselves, and it is business as usual. Underfunded agency and the industry still inspects itself.

Isn't neo-Conservatism grand?

Now before you think that Gerry Ritz's callousness was unique, it is not. In order for the neo-conservative movement to be successful, you have to remove the human element. The Queen of the neo-cons, Margaret Thatcher, once said: "There is no such thing as society."

Another neo-con guru, Roger Douglas, told his disciples "Don't blink".

The SPP has actually disbanded, but not the principles. They have just been rolled into a juiced up NAFTA, and the fight continues.

Murray Dobbin believes we still have a chance to turn this movement around, but we must first get people to pay attention, and above all VOTE. I can't stress that enough. Apathy is probably more dangerous than the SPP.

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