Thursday, October 02, 2008

Has Mr. Harper Been Dismissing The Wrong CMAJ Article?


Both my kids go to French immersion school.

Which is interesting, to say the least, on a whole lot of levels.

But that's a story for another day.

I only raise the point here because it is the one of the reasons I listened to last night's Leader's debate on Canuckstan's French Radio Network.

But when I heard Mr. Harper obfuscate, once again, on the issue of why listeria bacilli were allowed to bloom in a meat processing plant where Government inspectors had been removed due to a policy change instituted by his government I decided to go back and watch the English CBC's version of the debate, translated, to make sure I heard things correctly.

And I did.


What, you may be wondering, am I babbling on about this time?

Well, once again, Mr. Harper 'dismissed' a reference to the Editorial from the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) because it was, he intimated, based on the statements of a single anti-Conservative partisan.

Now, leaving the 'shoot the messenger' codswallop aside for the moment, there appears to something weird going on here.

Which is that the actual CMAJ Editorial, published on Sept 16th, and titled, 'Listeriosis Is The Least Of It' (link:pdf), was not authored by one person.

Instead, it was authored by seven people, including a number of deputy/associate editors as well as the Editor-in-Chief of the CMAJ.

And it does not rely on quotes from any one person to come to its conclusions, which are highly damning of Harper government policies regarding public health.


What the heckfire is going on here?

Is Mr. Harper suggesting that the entire Editorial board of the CMAJ should be ignored, out of hand, because they are all a bunch of partisan conservative-hating hacks?

It's conceivable I guess, but pretty unlikely.

But what if Mr Harper was actually pulling a double-reverse obfuscatory/conflationary Spin-O-Rama while jumping from the high board in the piked position?

In other words, what if Mr. Harper was actually pretending to refer to the CMAJ's collectively written Editorial while actually referring to something quite different?


It turns out that the CMAJ published another article on the very same day (ie. Sept 16th) that was written by a single author titled, "Shifting to food industry self-monitoring may be hazardous" (link:pdf).

This second article was most definitely NOT an Editorial. Instead, it was in the journal's 'News' section, and was likely written by a staffer. In the body of that article Bob Kingston, the president of the Agricultue Union of the Public Service Alliance of Canada whose members include government meat inspectors, was heavily quoted as being critical of the Harper government's policies.

So, now do you see where I'm going?

Could it be that Mr. Harper was waving away the CMAJ's Editorial, which is extremely damning of his public health policies for many reasons, including the listerisis outbreak that has killed, and is still killing Canadians, by misdirecting us to the CMAJ's 'News' bit?

Probably only the unelected Co-Leader of the Conservative Party of Canada knows for sure.

However, this I do know - If any of the Opposition Leaders decide to raise this issue in tonight's English Language Debate, they cannot let this stand.

Thus, I recommend they quote, specifically, from the CMAJ's Editorial if they do raise the issue once again (which I believe they must).

And here are three recommended passages they could use (just in case there are any War Room Ops trolling the Interwebz looking for last minute material):

Passage #1:
Last November (2007) the Canadian government instituted a strategic review of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). Among its outcomes was to transfer inspection duties for ready-to-eat meats from the government inspectors to the meat industry. Cabinet decided to “shift from full-time CFIA meat inspection presence to an oversight role, [thereby] allowing industry to implement food safety control programs and to manage key risks.”

In practice, the new policy meant that CFIA inspectors would rarely enter meat plants to test for bacteria and testing was left mostly to companies. Self-inspection came largely to substitute for, and not just to supplement, government inspection. Self-inspection mechanisms have worked effectively in other countries, but in Canada something went very wrong. One troubling sign is that even now, months after the policy change, the CFIA’s required sampling procedure remains under development.....

Passage 2:
"The listeriosis epidemic is a timely reminder that the Harper government has reversed much of the progress that previous governments made on governing for public health. Following the 2003 SARS epidemic and subsequent recommendations of the National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) was created and given its own minister in government— a direct line to the prime minister. But in 2006, among Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s first acts was to eliminate the PHAC minister and public health’s seat at the Cabinet table. His government also left the chief medical officer of health within the ranks of the civil service, working under the minister of health. In so doing, it left our country without a national independent voice to speak out on public health issues, including providing visible leadership during this crisis...."

Passage 3:
"And listeriosis may be the least of it. The same November 2007 Cabinet decision that handed self-inspection to the owners of meat plants did the same for operators of animal feed mills and cut back the avian influenza preparedness program. Yet bad animal feed led to the epidemic of bovine spongiform encephalitis (mad cow disease), and in an influenza pandemic tens of thousands of Canadians may die. Listeriosis pales in comparison. Overall, it would seem that, as a country, Canada is far less prepared now for epidemics than in the past......"


The policy change to remove government inspectors from the meat processing plant where listeria bloomed was Mr. Harper's and Mr. Harper's alone. Therefore, if he obfuscates again, as he did during last night's debate, and he is not held to account?

Well, and it pains me greatly to say this, Canada will get what it deserves.



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