Thursday, May 15, 2014

Hudak and Walkerton

Premier Kathleen Wynne visited Walkerton, Ontario today, scene of a horrific water pollution scandal in 2000 that implicated the Mike Harris government of which Mr. Hudak was a part. She said the "cutbacks of the 1990s contributed to this tragedy. There was a failure of oversight, a failure of enforcement. "
Mr. Hudak took umbrage at her comments saying, "I think it’s rather sad to see a Premier of Ontario politicizing that... I expected better from Kathleen Wynne. I’m very disappointed … all I’ve seen from her in these 10 days or so is pointing her finger at somebody else."

So what did the Commission of Inquiry into the Walkerton affair have to say about the responsibility of the Harris government for Walkerton.

Here is an excerpt from a summary of the report:
The provincial government’s budget reductions led to the discontinua­tion of government laboratory testing services for municipalities in 1996. In implementing this decision, the government should have enacted a regulation mandating that testing laboratories immediately and directly notify both the MOE (Ministry of the Environment) and the Medical Officer of Health of adverse results. Had the government done this, the boil water advisory would have been issued by May 19 at the latest, thereby preventing hundreds of illnesses.
  • The provincial government’s budget reductions made it less likely that the MOE would have identified both the need for continuous monitors at Well 5 and the improper operating practices of the Walkerton PUC (Public Utilities Commission). 
Now a PC leader who was elected as a Harris PC backbencher in 1995, and later served in cabinet has proposed a new round of deep spending cuts. Hudak says his plan involves no cuts to water inspectors, but as the Walkerton report makes clear compromising water quality is part of his party's past while in government, because of privatization and an inadequate recognition of its consequences.

It is not as if warnings weren't issued to the government from opposition benches about threats to water quality from the Harris government policies.  Here is NDP member Marilyn Churley, speaking on May 26, 1997 in debate on the WATER AND SEWAGE SERVICES IMPROVEMENT ACT, 1997, which was introduced even after the government had effectively privatized water testing in 1996. (bolding is mine):
This is not about trust. This is about municipalities having the money, the expertise, the inspectors, the ability to carry out this job. Many of them don't have that. With the downloading ... and the general cuts and more to come, many of the poorer municipalities are not going to have this option to take proper care with their sewage systems. It's very worrisome. People should be concerned about that. We're talking about environmental protection and, literally, human health; it is not just one of those airy-fairy, tree-hugger environmental issues that some of us get accused of from time to time. I know I myself from time to time have been accused of being one of those.
This is very serious. We're talking about the water we drink and the water we use on a daily basis. If we can't be guaranteed that water is safe, then we're really in trouble. We know this bill is going to create tremendous problems for municipalities to make sure the health of their communities is maintained.
Hard to take Hudak's protestations of absolute wounded innocence seriously. Is he certain there will be no adverse consequences to public health and welfare from cutting 100,000 jobs?