The Scene. For as long as humans have possessed language it has been generally true that few good conversations involve the phrase “fecal contamination.”
Perhaps that’s why the Prime Minister stepped aside this afternoon to let Gerry Ritz respond to the bulk of questions; of the six questions he might’ve otherwise been expect to take, Mr. Harper rose to respond to only two. Or maybe this was some attempt to make up for Mr. Ritz’s initial absence when last the House was seized with the matter of suspect beef.
At issue today was how we handle our cow carcasses: specifically whether our attitude toward the presence of “spinal cord/dura-mater” depends on whether Canadian or Japanese citizens are expected to ingest the resulting hamburgers.
“Mr. Speaker, the reality is that the CFIA has confirmed that meat sold in Canada is as safe as that is exported to other markets, including Japan,” Mr. Harper attempted to reassure the House. “Indeed, it is the Canadian law in this regard.”
Nycole Turmel was unconvinced.
“Mr. Speaker, if the health of Canadians was not threatened, why did the minister changed this dangerous directive there less than two weeks ago?” she wondered aloud. “Last spring, the Minister presented the report on plans and priorities of his ministry. He made cuts of about $ 46 million to the CFIA. It undermines the inspection process for beef to be consumed at home. How many inspections are to be suppressed due to cuts? What level of fecal contamination are Conservatives willing to accept?”
On this matter of cow poop (not to be confused with bull crap), it was Mr. Ritz’s duty to respond. “Mr. Speaker, everyone knows that safe food is a priority for the government and for CFIA, who enforces those regulations,” he reported. “We continue to build a robust food safety system in the country. We have added 20% to their budgets. We have added hundreds of front line food inspectors. We continue to do that, despite the NDP voting against those initiatives.”
Ms. Turmel suggests that Mr. Ritz was creating a two-tiered system. Mr. Ritz managed to respond without a hand written sign. “Mr. Speaker, those allegations are absolutely unfounded and untrue,” the Agriculture Minsiter admonished.
It was then the impatient Malcolm Allen’s turn. “Was the minister really not aware front line food inspectors were being directed to ignore food safety procedures?” he asked. “Conservatives have lost all credibility on food safety, so will they now agree to an absolute audit of CFIA, as instructed in the Weatherill report and do the audit now?”
Mr. Ritz seemed to think Mr. Allen was poor of hearing. “The member opposite just sat through two hours of CFIA and myself giving pertinent information about these allegations, which are totally unfounded,” the minister ventured. “CFIA has the budgetary capacity, thanks to our government and not thanks to the NDP.”
Mr. Allen seemed to think Mr. Ritz was excluding a relevant detail. “What we heard for the last two hours was clearly that we had the largest beef meat recall in the county’s entire history, courtesy of the minister and CFIA.”
Karate-chopping his way through the air in front of him, Mr. Allen demanded that the responsibility for food inspection be transferred to a different minister. Mr. Ritz offered only what he would not do. “We will not apologize for doing our due diligence through CFIA to make sure that food is safe in the country,” he explained.
A few seconds later, Bob Rae stood and put on his reading glasses to report aloud. “Mr. Speaker, the first memo that was sent out by CFIA in 2008 says as follows: ‘When stationed at this position ensure that non Japan eligible carcasses are not inspected for spinal cord/dura-mater, OCD defects and minor ingesta.’ It goes on to say to ignore them,” he removed his glasses to put the question. “How can the Prime Minister say that everything is perfectly okay when in fact the memo was changed?”
Before Mr. Harper could respond, Mr. Rae offered his own answer. “It was changed because there is a problem.”
The Prime Minister offered his assurances, but the interim Liberal leader was unimpressed. “Mr. Speaker, the fact remains that the meat recall crisis, I would remind the Prime Minister, was the largest meat call anywhere in the world ever with respect to what took place.”
(Note: A meat call is probably not to be confused with a cattle call. Assuming that the actors involved in the latter are not generally believed to be smeared in spinal matter.)
Mr. Ritz was once again unapologetic. “We, of course, would never apologize for the size and scope of a recall,” he ventured, somewhat oddly.
Under questioning from Ruth Ellen Brosseau, the moustachioed minister was finally compelled to explain what was really going on here. “If the NDP had its way, the hundreds of millions of dollars and hundreds of inspectors that we put in place since we formed government would never have happened,” he declared. “That is unfortunate.”
And so, apparently, the NDP’s fiendish plot to turn us all into vegetarians—or perhaps ensure that only vegetarians survive—is revealed.
The Stats. Food safety, 10 questions. Government spending, five questions. Foreign aid, four questions. Trade, three questions. Ethics, foreign investment, national security and the port of Montreal, two questions each.
Gerry Ritz, eight responses. Ed Fast, David Anderson, Gail Shea, Christian Paradis and Julian Fantino, three responses each. Stephen Harper, Peter MacKay, Rona Ambrose, Steven Blaney and Denis Lebel, two responses each. Ted Menzies, Peter Kent, Jason Kenney, Leona Aglukkaq, Deepak Obhrai and James Moore, one response each.