Saturday, September 20, 2008

Pushin' Out The Ritz

Here's the new Liberal attack ad, harshly criticizing |Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz and the Conservative response to the listeriosis outbreak.

I can't say I'm a big fan of this particular spot. I've never liked negative advertising, although I suppose I understand the reason behind it in this particular case. There's been a lot made of Minister Ritz's insensitive remarks and off-colour joke about Wayne Easter, including a new video game. His comments were flat out stupid, no question. But in and of themselves, they were merely emblematic of a larger problem within the Harper government - that of a fundamental shift towards deregulation.

It's really the inevitable endpoint of continual tax cuts, which must be paid for in some manner. The Harper government has chosen to balance the books by axing, amongst other things, federal regulatory programs, betting that a shift of responsibility to the private sector (in the form of industry self-regulation) would go unnoticed by the public. We've seen this movie before, in Walkerton Ontario under the Harris government, and just recently south of the border. There is a heavy price to be paid for deregulation.

A recent editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) blasted the Conservative government for failing to adequately ensure the integrity of public health.

Harper has called an "independent investigation" into the listeriosis epidemic that has killed at 16 people. But the editors said that under the terms of reference:

  • The investigator will not have the power to subpoena witnesses or documents.
  • The investigation will not be public.
  • There is no commitment to publishing the findings or reporting to Parliament.

Such flaws will make the investigation inferior compared to those that probed Canada's tainted blood scandal, the Walkerton tainted water crisis and the SARS epidemic. Those inquiries made governance and medical recommendations to better protect Canadians, the editorial said.

The Harper government's insistence on allowing private industries to regulate themselves is puzzling, to say the least. Conservatives will argue that industry has an inherent interest in promoting public safety. Crises such as the listeriosis outbreak, they say, will impact public confidence in Maple Leaf Foods and in turn lower profits. As Thomas Walkom points out:
Now, government inspectors in many areas – including meat – do little or no real inspecting. Instead, they rely on companies to monitor themselves and spend most of their time analyzing industry-compiled data.

It's what Harper calls a "joint effort."

The theory behind this is that firms have a long-term incentive to make consumers believe their food is safe.

Which, perhaps, they do. But they also have a powerful incentive to make short-term profits for their shareholders. At times, the two incentives can collide. What Gerry Ritz doesn't seem to understand is that when this happens, the results aren't funny.


Anonymous said...
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MD said...

Personally, I think attack ads like this are in poor taste, but I'm evidently in the minority or they wouldn't be a staple of politics. But I think both the media and the Liberals are missing the bigger pattern. The joke was innappropriate, but more importantly, Ritz was in a discussion with non-partisan public health officials during a public health crisis which he focused entirely on political messaging.

The Tories are incapable of seeing any public policy problem except as a battle in some sort of partisan war. Hence the implication that a dead soldier's father was a Liberal supporter, or Harper's wierd comments about a "Liberal" Supreme Court being a safegaurd against a Conservative majority. The individual gaffes are not generally as serious as the media report, but they point to a disturbing philosophy which makes them incapable of providing good government.

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