Senate scandal still boiling

It’s hard to be shocked any more by the Harper government’s Senate scandal, but last week I was.
This shock was the result of the sudden “discovery” of hundreds of e-mails by the prime minister’s personal legal counsel, Benjamin Perrin, which were thought to have been destroyed before he left his job earlier in the year.
The discovery of these e-mails is a good thing if you respect the law and want to know how the Senate scandal took shape. But it’s decidedly bad news if you are the prime minister or Mr. Perrin.
The discovery of these missing e-mails is surprising in at least three ways. First, it technically was not legal for Mr. Perrin, the prime minister, or his other staff to have attempted to delete or dispose of these e-mails in the first place.
Secondly, the attempt to destroy the e-mails failed because they have been “frozen” because there is another active investigation currently underway which Mr. Perrin apparently is involved in.
And thirdly, the e-mails actually were “found” months after the RCMP originally had requested them—and were told by the Prime Minister’s Office that they were “gone.”
None of this looks good for a government that supposedly is “co-operating” with the RCMP on the Senate scandal investigation.
Meanwhile, last week I wanted to let you know about other important findings of the Auditor General Michael Ferguson which were disclosed in his fall report, but space would not allow it.
This week then will be a bit of a wrap-up of his fall report, and specifically his findings about how the Harper government is handling our food safety and food recall system.
The Auditor General’s finding on the food safety issue, like his findings on the rail safety issue discussed in last week’s column, are, in my opinion, among the most important as they deal with our physical safety—in our homes, while we are away, and while we are travelling.
As is customary, the Auditor General spends a “chapter” of each report on a particular issue of concern. Chapter 4 in the 2013 fall report was devoted to “Canada’s Food Recall System,” and was selected for auditing as a result of the Maple Leaf Foods listeriosis and XL Foods E. coli outbreaks of recent years.
The main findings of the Auditor General in Chapter 4 include the following:
•“We concluded that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) did not adequately manage the food recall system.”
•“The CFIA’s [Canadian Food Inspection Agency] emergency response plan for food safety issues, used to manage three high-profile recalls in 2012, has been in draft form since 2004. It has not been finalized or tested.”
•“The weaknesses identified in this audit were partly related to some long-standing issues. For example, the Agency’s guidance for managing food safety investigations and recalls was incomplete, unclear, and not finalized on a timely basis.
“We noted many examples of incomplete documentation of important decisions and key steps in the recall process.”
While presenting his report, Michael Ferguson offered the following words on the food recall chapter: “Even when government identifies a problem, it takes too long to develop and implement solutions.
“The resulting delays can have significant impacts on Canadian, both directly and indirectly.”
In a nutshell, the Auditor General found a great amount confusion in the CFIA’s food recall system, that there is no approved emergency response plan, and that the Harper government’s negligence on this file has put the safety of Canadians and their families at risk.
It must have been a long few weeks for the Harper government. When their ethics weren’t being called into question, their competency was, and vice-versa.
My fellow NDP MPs and I think it’s well past time that Canadians received the ethical and competent service they deserve from their federal government, and that our party best represents that kind of change.

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