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VIEW: ‘XL meat scandal may be Harper’s Walkerton’, says Walkom

Toronto Star columnist Thomas Walkom writes, “Politically (the tainted meat) affair has the potential to do to Stephen Harper what the Walkerton water scandal — and the same virulent E. coli strain — did to Ontario’s Mike Harris 12 years ago. Like the XL affair, Walkerton had its roots in deregulation. Harris’ Conservative government came to power in Ontario promising to cut what it called red tape. A judicial inquiry later concluded that his casual approach to regulation set the table for actions that eventually resulted in seven people dying after drinking tap water contaminated with cow dung.”

“Indeed, federal efforts to eliminate so-called red tape not only mirror those of Harris but are championed by former Harrisites like Finance Minister Jim Flaherty. For food safety, the results have been disastrous. In 2008, an outbreak of listeriosis at a Toronto meat packing plant killed 23 people. Two years later, tainted meat from another Toronto plant hospitalized three more. As the Canadian Medical Association Journal noted, the 2008 deaths came after Ottawa took the primary inspection function away from federal regulators and handed it over to the meat packing companies themselves.”

Walkom concludes, “XL’s Lakeside plant in Brooks is a poster boy for Harper’s vision of the economic future. It is big — one of the biggest in the country. It is Western. It is resource-based. And it employs plenty of those temporary foreign workers that the current government has encouraged to come to Canada. There are federal meat inspectors assigned to Lakeside. But it is not clear what they do — or if there are enough to handle the volume of meat processed. Up to now, the Harper government had sailed through its deregulation disasters unscathed. For his first five years in power, so did Mike Harris. But in the end, Walkerton became the symbol of everything that was wrong with Harris’ regime. And the government he had so painstakingly built was wiped out.”

The column can be read at http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/article/1266344–walkom-massive-alberta-meat-recall-is-harper-s-walkerton-moment. Campaign blogs on the XL scandal can be read at http://canadians.org/blog/?p=17074 and http://canadians.org/blog/?p=16892.