Robyn Benson, PSAC

The spectre of Walkerton

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Obviously I was pleased and proud when PSAC Communications won a “Stroke of Genius Award” the other night for our on-going “Food for Thought” campaign, which, along with Food Safety First, we’ve been carrying on jointly with our Agriculture Component. But I’m also deeply worried—and you should be, too.

Our campaign has been putting a human face on the food inspection activities that our members carry out on behalf of all Canadians. It’s important, in fact vital, work, but it’s being endangered by on-going cuts.

Bargaining with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has been proceeding at a glacial pace. That’s symptomatic of the contempt in which these inspectors, technicians and support workers—as is the case with other public workers—are held by the Harper government. Meanwhile, key food inspection services continue to be slashed. Bob Kingston, President of Agriculture Component, explained the dangers on national television just a few weeks ago.

Why am I worried? Because I remember Walkerton. That was a tragedy caused by a blind program of deep cuts imposed by Ontario’s then-Premier Mike Harris as part of his so-called “Common Sense Revolution.” 2,500 were made ill, and seven people died from drinking tainted water. An inquiry subsequently found that deregulation of water testing and cuts to the Environment Ministry by the Harris government were contributing factors.

Now “it’s déjà vu all over again.” Old familiar faces from the past rise to greet us—John Baird, Tony Clement, Jim Flaherty, all heavyweights in the Harris administration at the time, and now part of Stephen Harper’s inner circle. And it doesn’t seem like they’ve learned a thing from the past.

CFIA is already stretched to the limit in terms of its capacity to monitor the food we eat, and ensure our safety. But the cuts go on and on.

I note that some nay-sayers have been making that old moth-eaten claim that unions are alarmists—that it’s all about keeping jobs, nothing to do with risk to the public. It’s time to face that criticism squarely, and that brings me back to the excellent “Food for Thought” campaign.

Our members on the ground are all too aware of what cuts to food inspection can mean, and they’re speaking out, but you don’t have to take their word for it. Instead, just apply a little of that common sense that Mike Harris talked about without knowing what it was. Look at the faces of the members on the job, and read what it is that they do. Are those really the kind of services we should skimp on, or even do without?

I think we all know the answer to that one. Don’t we?

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This page contains a single entry by Robyn Benson, PSAC published on May 29, 2013 8:00 AM.

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