Monday, November 16, 2009

Federal government fumbles again. And again. And again...

Never mind the federal inquiry into B.C.’s vanishing sockeye salmon that will soon be underway. How about an inquiry into the federal government itself?
I’m sure the feds must be good at something. But they’re routinely quite hopeless, in ways that would almost be funny if it weren’t for the harm being done to Canadians and the country.
How have they hurt us? Let me count the ways:
H1N1 - If this had really been “the big one,” we’d have been as hooped as a New Orleans hurricane victim waiting for rescue after Katrina. As luck would have it, we’ve been allowed to test our national pandemic strategy with a virus that wasn’t as terrifying as expected, but picture the shape we’d be in right now had the new flu strain remained as lethal as it was in its early days in Mexico.
Canada has a 550-page pandemic preparedness plan, developed by the Public Health Agency four years ago after a botched national response to the SARS crisis. But the Canadian Medical Association Journal sounded the alarm in September that the plan was neither workable nor in keeping with best medical practices when it came to H1N1.
For starters, the plan around H1N1 was to have Canada’s single flu vaccine supplier produce three different flu vaccines at the same time, even though the Quebec plant has just one production line. No deep thinking required to see the problem that was bound to create.
The plant was already busy producing seasonal flu vaccine by the time the H1N1 vaccine was developed this fall. So that delayed production of the H1N1 vaccine - to the point that two waves of the flu had already swept through most Canadian communities by the time vaccinations were underway.
Then the plant had to switch course again when the government ordered 1.8 million doses of “non-adjuvenated” H1N1 vaccine for pregnant women, having grown nervous of the shark oil derivatives added to the vaccine. That delayed production of the regular H1N1 vaccine a second time.
Nor did the plan take into account human behaviour in times of crisis. The honour system breaks down quickly when people believe their lives are under threat, and who can blame them for thinking that after seven months of hysterical and confusing media coverage? There’s always a way to jump the queue if you work the angles, which is why junior hockey teams and wealthy Toronto hospital donors have ended up vaccinated while high-risk populations are still lining up.
Why did we choose a single vaccine supplier? The Chretien Liberals signed that exclusive deal back in 2001 with Quebec’s Shire BioChem, bought by GlaxoKlineSmith in 2005. Coincidentally, Shire BioChem gave a $56,000 donation to the Liberal Party that year.
The gun registry - This sad tale started in 1995 with the passing of a new Firearms Act. The plan required all gun owners to register their weapons and was sold to Canadians on the basis of it costing taxpayers just $2 million a year. Fourteen lost years and some $2 billion later, parliament voted this week to scrap the registry for all guns other than handguns.
The data on seven million registered “long guns” collected over the years will be thrown away. More than $21 million in registration fees has already been returned to Canadian long-gun owners, with more to come. Your tax dollars at work.
Employment Insurance - Remember when Canadians who were unemployed could actually get benefits to help them through a dry spell?
Back in 1990, 80 per cent of unemployed Canadians qualified for such benefits. These days, only 38 per cent do. That’s because the federal government has spent well over a decade tightening up policies, to the point that most out-of-work Canadians no longer qualify.
The denial of benefits has resulted in significant annual surpluses accruing to the federal government for more than 14 years now, even while the number of Canadians receiving benefits has plummeted by more than 56 per cent.
Fisheries - The latest concern is a Fraser River sockeye salmon return this fall that was 93 per cent smaller than what the Department of Fisheries and Oceans had forecast. The federal government has now launched an inquiry, which is what we do in Canada when we want to douse the flames on a hot issue.
But that’s just the latest addition to a long list of alarming examples of fisheries mismanagement in B.C. Federal government policies have decimated fish stocks, sandbagged monitoring and enhancement, and wiped out a thriving community-based industry in order to give the resource away to a handful of wealthy men. It’s unforgiveable.
I could go on. The sponsorship scandal. The e-health scandal. The isotope fiasco. The fumbling bird flu response. The deeply flawed immigration system.
George Bernard Shaw once described democracy as “a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.” Frightening to think what that says about us.

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