Assertion, unsupported by fact, is nugatory. Surmise and general abuse, in however elegant language, ought not to pass for truth. Junius

2004/12/20

A Blip in the Moral Fibre

The Koebel brothers have been sentenced for their role in the Walkerton water disaster: Stan Koebel will be watching the plumbing at a provincial jail for a year; his brother Stan received 9 months of house arrest. Stan Koebel's lawyer Bill Trudel said after sentencing that the criminal aspects of Mr Koebel's behaviour were definitely overplayed in the media: "This is a man of moral fibre, and during that period of time there was a blip in it, but I don't think anyone would doubt that he's ethical." (Source: Globe and Mail)

I suppose some would argue the same apologia could be made for the last provincial goverment, whose ideological blinders and thirst for tax cuts at the cost of public safety directly led to seven deaths and thousands getting sick. But was it a blip in the moral fibre, or something more congenital? Lest we forget who the real culprits at Walkerton were, or the spirit of the Harris's Common Sense Revolution, here are some extracts of Mr Justice O'Connor's report on the Walkerton tragedy:



I am satisfied that the regulatory culture created by the government through the Red Tape Commission review process discouraged any proposals to make the notification protocol for adverse drinking water results legally binding on the operators of municipal water systems and private laboratories. . . The evidence showed that the concept of a notification regulation would likely have been "a non-starter," given the government’s focus on minimizing regulation.

[. . .]

Before the decision was made to significantly reduce the MOE’s budget in 1996, senior government officials, ministers, and the Cabinet received numerous warnings that the impacts could result in increased risks to the environment and human health. These risks included those resulting from reducing the number of proactive inspections – risks that turned out to be relevant to the events in Walkerton. The decision to proceed with the budget reductions was taken without either an assessment of the risks or the preparation of a risk management plan. There is evidence that those at the most senior levels of government who were responsible for the decision considered the risks to be manageable. But there is no evidence that the specific risks, including the risks arising from the fact that the notification protocol was a guideline rather than a regulation, were properly assessed or addressed.

In February 1996, the Cabinet approved the budget reductions in the face of the warnings of increased risk to the environment and human health.
The phrase that should hit you over the head is that the Tory government "considered the risks to be manageable." For the Tories, of course, the equation was simple. Regulation = evil. Stifles private initiative and all that. Managing risk, that is, doing risk assessment of government policies might lead to --- more government regulation. Bad. The Tories, it seems, were more committed to whatever ideological folie du jour than to the common sense proposition that safe drinking water requires close government supervision. It's regrettable, in this case, that the only price the Tories paid for imposing reckless policy was political.

It's also unfortunate there is little evidence the Tories, or anyone on the right for that matter, has learnt anything at all from Walkerton. Regulation is still decried as the besetting sin of government. Every ideological nostrum is swallowed like a drunk taking his first swig of the day. Even for the most recalcitrant student, the lesson is easy:

Regulation isn't all bad.

Playing ideological games can kill.

It's that simple.





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