Public Values

Regulations are everyone's business

Nothing more than "irritants" for Harper, lobbyists.

Gordon: The Prime Minister needs to listen to Canadians and not just a couple of friendly lobbyists.by John Gordon, PSAC National President

Shawn Fields is an aircraft engineer at Transport Canada. He works at Macdonald Cartier International Airport in Ottawa, where he inspects the structural integrity of military aircraft to ensure they are safe to fly. This includes the Prime Minister's plane.

Behind the scenes, people like Shawn are working tirelessly across the country in several highly specialized jobs to protect the health and safety of Canadians, including the Prime Minister.

More than 15,000 Canadians work in the federal public service as accident inspectors, chemical decontamination technologists, food inspectors, grain-handling regulators, ship and train safety inspectors, counter terrorism specialists, fishery officers, nutritional researchers, and ammunition technicians, to name only a few.

Given the importance of these services, one would expect the government to make their effective delivery a priority. On the contrary, Stephen Harper wants fewer inspections and fewer regulations. According to him and the lobbyists he listens to, regulations amount to "irritants" for businesses and must be eliminated.

  "Most Canadians, including small business owners, support regulations that protect the health and safety of our communities."

In the wake of the E. coli contaminated water crisis at Walkerton and the Listeriosis outbreak at Maple Leaf Foods — two tragedies that left 29 people dead and thousands sick, this is an egregious case of misplaced priorities, particularly when investigations into both tragedies revealed that the loosening of government regulations directly led to these deaths.

Instead of strengthening protections, the government is moving in the opposite direction. Through initiatives such as the partisan "Red Tape Reduction Commission," composed entirely of Conservative Members of Parliament, business executives, and lobbyists, the government is facilitating the dismantling of regulations meant to keep Canadians safe from harm.

There is more bad news. Stephen Harper and Barack Obama recently announced the creation of a United States-Canada Regulatory Cooperation Council (RCC) that will reduce regulatory standards across the border. The details of this Council's mandate, composition, and objectives remain under a cloud of secrecy.

In seeking to reduce regulatory compliance, it is very likely that these new bodies will weaken the capacity of the government to protect the interests of Canadians. While helping businesses create jobs and grow our economy is important, this cannot occur at the expense of Canadians' health and safety.

The Prime Minister needs to start listening to Canadians and not just a couple of friendly lobbyists. Most Canadians, including small business owners, support regulations that protect the health and safety of our communities.

The Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives released a regulations primer demonstrating that Canadians expect high standards from their government.

Environics polling used in the primer demonstrates 9 out of 10 Canadians say their government should do more to protect the environment, health, and safety.

The polling also reveals 84 percent of Canadians believe corporations will usually put profit before safety, and 83 percent of respondents said regulations should be enforced by government workers, not the industries themselves.

In fact, 76 percent of respondents are convinced that corporations have too much influence over how government regulations are set.

The most striking aspect of this research was the deep sense of pride that people feel in Canadian regulatory standards. The people whose job it is to ensure that regulations are enforced share this sense of pride. Their expert knowledge and skills keep our skies, seas, food, and environment safe for all.

As the Public Service Alliance of Canada prepares to negotiate new collective agreements for these workers, the government has an opportunity to demonstrate to Canadians how important these jobs really are.

But there is a real possibility that these services will be jeopardized as the government prepares to table a budget with millions in cuts to federal departments, without a plan on how each department will deal with this shortfall. The government has so far refused to provide details on how it plans to reduce the deficit without cutting jobs and services Canadians depend upon.

In my own meeting with Treasury Board President Stockwell Day, I insisted that the government ensure departments continue to deliver crucial services to Canadians.

Canadian families, who depend on the hard work of people like Shawn Fields, will be looking to the government at budget time to invest in stronger protections, instead of weakening the regulatory protections that keep our communities safe.

John Gordon is the national president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada.

Posted: March 09, 2011

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