CFIA problems are the tip of the privatization iceberg - food inspector Bob Kingston
Seventeen other departments could face potentially deadly cuts like CFIA did due to a pro-privatization ideology.
OTTAWA, October 8, 2008 — 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.
At the official launch announcement of PublicValues.ca, Kingston said that CFIA cutbacks, which contributed to the outbreak, were more moderate than those planned by the Conservative government for other departments.
"I'd suggest there are 17 other documents floating around just like" the one detailing CFIA cuts that biologist Luc Pomerleau was fired for releasing.
"What the Harper Conservatives are all about is deregulation and privatizing," said Kingston. "But beyond the privatizing part of it, it's the self-policing. That nonsense — that it's in the company's best interests to put out good products, so basically, why do you need regulation! If that were true, we wouldn't even be in a financial crisis."
He predicted more tragedies ahead if the federal government goes ahead with across-the-board departmental cuts. "It really is the tip of the iceberg. It's a tragedy that 20 people had to die before this government even paid attention. They still tried to bury it as an election item, saying they were going to have an inquiry."
He says the Harper government is driven by extreme pro-privatization ideology, pointing to their actions to strip the Canadian Wheat Board of its marketing powers. Giant companies have been pushing for years to take these powers away from the Board.
"Along comes the Harper government. It's the first government that's actually listened to them," said Kingston, "and blindly followed what they said. We're seeing that sector by sector. They have a belief that corporations are intrinsically good and the profit motive will always lead you to ultimately the best result... I think it's deadly, obviously, when it's acted out in real life."
He said the government is driven by "pure ideology and they tolerate no resistance." He said Harper fired agriculture minister Chuck Strahl for saying the government needed to talk to farmers after the government lost a court ruling over the Wheat Board. "Within two hours he was fired and Harper had gone on national TV and directly contradicted him. That's how Gerry Ritz got the job."
Here is an excerpted transcript of Kingston's remarks at the launch of PublicValues.ca:
I mention this as the tip of the iceberg. I don't think that could be overstated. The whole issue around food safety and the deregulation - it's been going on for a while but it came to a head of course this summer with the listeria outbreak. Leading into it was the release of a document that outlined this government's plans for the slaughterhouses. What they have already done, in terms of the self-policing of the food industry, has taken place within the processing end of it. Their next target was the slaughter plants, where the risk is even greater.
That's the document that a member got fired for bringing to the attention of their union. That's the one you can still see on our website, that FoodSafetyFirst website. What people need to know, that was part of the strategic review at CFIA. CFIA was only one of 18 departments that was in the same boat. And CFIA was actually treated kinder by this government, believe it or not, than the other 17 departments that were being reviewed.
I'd suggest there are 17 other documents floating around just like it. And that was only year one of the strategic review initiated by the Harper government. Every year they take a quarter of the public service and they do the same analysis of their work and that means these strategic review documents are now in play for the second round of departments, and on and on it will go. They're not asking departments to justify what they do... What they're saying is, you have to identify the lowest 5 percent of what you think is your priorities. It's hard to tell that to CFIA, because of course what they deal with, everything they deal with most people would consider somewhat critical. But they had to identify their 5 percent lowest priority and reallocate funds. Treasury Board told them flat out, the Harper Treasury Board told them flat out that if they didn't it would be done for them. That's what all the departments are facing.
So it really doesn't matter whether the lowest 5 percent in a given department might be the top 5 percent in any other department. That's irrelevant. They just want to see cuts, cuts, cuts. I know they keep talking about pumping more money into it, but you can take a look at any year's spending plans that this government has in place and you will see the next two years always, always, without exception, are about cuts and cuts and cuts. No matter what kind of nonsense they keep saying about increasing spending.
What the Harper Conservatives are all about is deregulation and privatizing. But beyond the privatizing part of it, it's the self-policing — that nonsense that it's in the company's best interests to put out good products, so basically, why do you need regulation? If that were true, we wouldn't even be in a financial crisis.
It really is the tip of the iceberg. It's a tragedy that 20 people had to die before this government even paid attention. They still tried to bury it as an election item, saying they were going to have an inquiry...
We're doing everything we can to keep [these issues] in the public eye during the election. We hope that other people take up the issues of privatization, self-policing, etc., as well and hold these guys accountable. Because right now they are so ideologically bent toward this stuff it is scary. There's no rhyme or reason. There's no rational discussions you can have with these folks.
Take the Canadian Wheat Board, for example. They say they consult with farmers. Well, the Minister had a meeting here in Ottawa where he had what he considered industry representatives. It was something called Western Canada Barley Growers Association. When they had to file documents in court in Calgary, when the farmers took Harper to court, this Western Canada Barley Growers Association had about 140 something members and most of them were corporations, not even growers. And the 10,000 barley growers that are out in the west — I don't think would honestly feel this is a true representation of their interests.
But the National Farmers Union, which does represent about 10,000 members, were totally shut out of the meeting. They even showed up in town here and asked to attend, and it was a secret meeting. They wouldn't tell them where the address was. So this is the way Harper's government has been running. I mean, they're locked onto an ideological path and no amount of logic seems to sway them. So it's only public outcry that I think will eventually do the trick, and launching a site like this, I'm hoping, will help get us there.
We have legislation in place since 1912 - the Grain Act - to protect small farmers in this country and basically a way of life and to oversee a system where everybody could profitably exist. It was put in place, as I said, specifically to protect small producers from large international companies.
The companies we're talking about, Cargill, Dreyfus, etc., they're the largest private companies on the planet. Between a handful of them they control about 80 percent of the world's food supply. They have been lobbying successive governments since 1912 to change that act and get rid of it, because it protected farmers from them. And they couldn't control the farmers in Canada the way they do in many other countries.
Along comes the Harper government. It's the first government that's actually listened to them, and blindly followed what they said. We're seeing that sector by sector. They have a belief that corporations are intrinsically good and the profit motive will always lead you to ultimately the best result...
That seems to follow every decision they make with respect to deregulation — the profit motive will eventually get us to some perfect place. I think it's deadly, obviously, when it's acted out in real life and they just don't seem to get it. But we're convinced it's pure ideology and they tolerate no resistance.
As a matter of fact, when they lost their first court case in Calgary, before they appealed it in Winnipeg — this is when the farmers all took them to court when they tried to deconstruct the Wheat Board — and the courts actually said, this organization belongs to farmers. You need to talk to farmers. One of his ministers at the time, Chuck Strahl, was asked: what does this court case mean? And he said, maybe it means we need to talk to farmers. Within two hours he was fired and Harper had gone on national TV and directly contradicted him. We're not talking to farmers, period.
And that's how Gerry Ritz got the job. I mean, this guy will tolerate no opposition... I've been around for a while and I've never seen a leader of this country so ideologically bent in one direction.
Privatization vs. Public Values Frame
Departmental review / Tip of iceberg
Links and sources
Food Safety First website
Posted: October 08, 2008
Public Values (PublicValues.ca) is a project of the Golden Lake Institute and the online publication StraightGoods.ca