After much prodding by other bloggers, I set this up for my own writings. The name is in honour of the two women that mentored me throughout my life on politics and intelligence issues, as well as being wonderful family members, now alas deceased. I hope to live up to their standards at this site.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Harper's right, Lunn went Above and beyond, not of the call of duty but of the law however.

Ever since that day last December when I was sitting at home watching Question Period and saw Harper get up and claim that the head of the CNSC was a Liberal partisan operative out to embarrass his government in a coordinated plot with the Official Opposition leader I have been watching the Chalk River situation quite carefully. Indeed, I remember shouting back at the TV at Harper saying you had better have hard evidence to back that up with otherwise you are asking for a world of hurt. You see, as a child of the Cold War things like nuclear issues tend to attract my attention, they always have. This was why for example I knew Bush was lying at Camp David on Sept 7 2002 when he and Blair cited a report from the IAEA about Sadddam being possibly as close as six months to a working weapon when no such report existed (which took three weeks for the American media to even notice) and it was the fact he was lying about nuclear weapons that sent me into such hard opposition to the Iraq war from the outset. I make no claims of expertise in nuclear science, just what a lay person can pick up if they have any basic interest in hard sciences which I do, although my primary areas of interest is in quantum physics, astrophysics, and a bit of particle physics. So that provides for allowing at least the basic understanding of how nuclear reactors and weapons work and the risks they have attached to them.

So I know it is important with reactors to have a multiple redundancy system in place, that one cannot simply rely on a single back-up process but that multiple redundancies are the order of the day, because the destructive impact of a mistake is so extreme in both the damage it can do AND the length of time it can leave the contamination in its wake. Which is why the guarantee about how safe the reactor at Chalk River provided by Harper last month was obviously political spin and not sound science. Indeed, for Harper to guarantee no earthquake would hit that reactor while it was non-compliant was something I found breathtaking it its arrogance and hubris, even by Harper's standard set by his prior examples. That the risk might be low, low enough to take the chance for a limited period of time is one thing, to claim no risk whatsoever though is something else entirely. Yet Harper did not do this, did he?

There are several blogs that have done excellent work at covering this issue, Impolitical and The House and The Senate and Politics 'n 'Poetry in particular deserve special commendations for the various aspects they have dealt with in the last five weeks. I would recommend them for anyone wishing to examine in greater detail exactly what has been going on here. As for me, the aspect that I currently wish to address is from yesterday's Harper defence of Minister Lunn's actions and his claim that the regulator is the one acting inappropriately here. This is not only a bogus claim, it is a very dangerous one as well. As Dave at the Galloping Beaver notes in this post and 900ft Jesus notes in her post at The House and The Senate Dangerous precedents - Dangerous Patterns the CNSC is by the legislation controlling it passed by Parliament a quasi-judicial body at arms length from the government of the day. Which means that unlike say the head of a crown corporation the minister that has jurisdiction over the area that body operates in does not have the authority to arbitrarily fire the head of without any further cause than political embarrassment. No, in these cases one can only be fired for specific cause as laid out in the legislation and her employment contract. What Lunn tried to do in his Dec 27 2007 letter to Keen was entirely inappropriate, out of line, and quite likely illegal as well.

I have been reading the G&M comments sections on the various nuclear stories the past couple of days (which took awhile given the numbers they were generating) and there are a couple of themes showing from the defenders of Harper/Lunn in this. The first one is that she/Keen is Lunn's subordinate, and any subordinate that does not do as her boss requires should be fired. The problem with that is as I just noted in the prior paragraph is that she is not a direct subordinate of his, she heads an independent body answerable only to Parliament as a whole and not the Minister. The Minister can give general direction/guidelines, but is specifically not supposed to involve themselves on specific issues and rulings by the regulator, and what Lunn was doing with trying to make her break the law she is duty bound to uphold was exactly that kind of specific interference the independent nature of this body was set up to prevent/avoid. One does not want certain regulators, such as those charged with nuclear safety in a position where they have to place pleasing political masters ahead of enforcing regulations that may make things difficult for a government, especially if they are noted by the public. It is to prevent political interference that Keen is not answerable to the Minister, and the Minister and especially the Prime Minister after being the government for almost exactly 2 full years now have no excuse for not knowing and understanding this It is to prevent political partisan concerns from overriding safety that we set up such independent regulators, and for a government to interfere like this is bad enough, that we are seeing this behaviour from a minority government is truly appalling in what it reveals about the arrogance, the misconceptions, and the dictatorial nature of that government. Either they did not understand this (which is not credible) or they didn't care believing that their interests and concerns supersedes all other considerations, including the rule of law. It is not the first time we have seen the CPC take a unique interpretation of the law to suit themselves, just look at their Convention fundraising scandal, their ad scandal from the last election pumping cash in inappropriately and then to add salt to the wound tried to get taxpayers to pay them back for it. That they would do this with nuclear safety issues takes that kind of arrogant I am above the law mentality to a much darker place.

The other excuse is one I am surprised to be seeing, even from this government and its defenders, given how easily it is shown to be utter nonsense. They are using the pain and suffering of real Canadians to deflect from the harsh reality that this shortage was entirely the responsibility of the Minister of Natural Resources not doing his job. This other meme I am seeing these defenders using though is one that is so idiotic I am surprised they are trying it. They are arguing that Keen deserves to be fired for placing Canadian lives at risk for lack of isotopes;. The thing is though it is not a part of her mandate and her legally binding duties to be concerned with such things, no that belongs to AECL, MDS-Nordion, the Ministers of health and Natural Resources. Her job is to enforce the safety protocols for nuclear reactors as mandated by the controlling legislation passed by Parliament, and the only way to override that is via another Act of Parliament, period. Not by the Minister asking/telling her to do so, not by an Order in Council, but by Parliament changing the legislation and/or passing overriding legislation, as was eventually done. To try and claim that she was the one placing the lives of Canadians at risk because she refused to break the law is a particularly offensive and odious attack approach, even by the standards of this Harper CPC which I might add includes reading and acting on the AG report instead of sitting on it as Lunn (and possibly Harper) did, which includes immediate notification of his cabinet colleague the Minister of Health once he is aware of shortages about to happen which he did not do, instead he waited at least several days (using the most generous reading of the timeline known to date) in doing anything regarding AECL (which IS something he has direct authority over unlike the NCSC) and for setting up (in this case reactivating the means for alternate supply as was already in place and used in the past) alternate supplies for the needed isotopes. They are trying to argue that Keen placed partisan interests to make the CPC government look bad by placing all these Canadian lives at risk because she refused to make it easy for the government to keep this quiet by simply restarting the reactor despite the fact it was not in legal compliance with legally required safety measures. She is being made the scapegoat, which is really sick given how obvious it is to any objective person looking at this issue that she did exactly as her job required of her, that it was the government that failed to act in a timely (or for that matter legal) manner to prevent this situation from happening, and that the only people that have acted inappropriately here are Lunn and Harper.

If anyone wants to argue about whether Lunn should be able to fire such a regulator, ask yourself this: Would you have thought it a good idea if the government could hide any AG report it didn't like and fire the AG if she did not do exactly what the government wanted even if it was contradicted by her mandate as defined by law/legislation? If your answer is anything other than a loud shouted NO you are either a liar, or worse, an idiot. There is a reason we have such positions within our governing structures, it is to prevent abuse of power and abuse of the citizenry (which includes their safety) by any sitting government, in other words a check and/or balance to protect us from those that would abuse their power in their own narrow interests, say to prevent a government from looking bad and/or incompetent to increase its electoral viability by simply hiding it and covering it up. It was good enough for the CPC when it was the Liberals being held to account by the independent AG, so why isn't it good enough when it comes to nuclear safety issues, hmmm?

I suspect I will be adding to this post and/or making new ones on this issue, this is hardly a complete overview of all the nuances in this issue, but to do that properly is going to take a bit more time than I have at the moment. The bottom line is though yet again we see the Harper CPC placing itself and its interests above the law, and for anyone that cares about principled government (whatever one's political preferences that should be something that is even more important than what party/leader currently is the government) that should be intolerable. I have said many times that one of my core reasons for opposing Harper and his CPC is because I fear they are corrupt when it comes to the use and abuse of power, and this issue with the nuclear regulator provides an excellent example of this in action. I would much rather have competent government that skims of tax dollars but does not otherwise place itself above the law than this sort of insanity we have been seeing from Harper from the Elections Commission, the Ethics Commissioner, the Canadian Wheat Board stupidity/deception to now this with the authority charged with enforcing Canada's nuclear safety regime. This is a government that refuses to accept the limitations the law places on their power, especially when in a minority government situation, and that should be of grave concern to anyone that claims they value democracy over any one political party/preference. That we see so many of the same voices defending Harper on this that also agree with Harper whenever Harper goes on his unelected Senate being oh so undemocratic and bad for Canada kick speaks volumes to their commitment to the principle of democracy being subordinate to their commitment to their party/leader first. This is a very serious issue and this government must be held accountable, and Lunn must be forced out of his job, he has clearly shown himself incompetent and willing to lie and hide things not just from the public but even from his colleagues in Cabinet and possibly even the PM himself. Not exactly something one should want in a Cabinet Minister, especially one responsible for such a serious file as Canada's nuclear industry and safety.


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