Tom Walkom writes in this morning's Toronto Star that the ever widening meat recall is Stephen Harper's "Walkerton Moment." The tainted water scandal in that small Ontario town marked the beginning of the end for Mike Harris' government. Walkom writes:
Neither Harris nor Harper invented deregulation.
In Ontario, Bob Rae’s New Democratic Party government cut back drinking water inspections well before Harris became premier.
In Ottawa, Liberal prime minister Jean Chrétien’s 1997 decision to hand over meat inspection to his industry-friendly agriculture ministry set the stage for deregulation there.
But like Harris, Harper accelerated the trend.
Indeed, federal efforts to eliminate so-called red tape not only mirror those of Harris but are championed by former Harrisites like Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.
For food safety, the results have been disastrous.
Modern conservatives are obsessed with governmental red tape. And they insist that businesses and public services should be self regulating. Alan Greenspan famously believed that there was too much at stake for Wall Street to not police its own actions. He did not factor in the human tendency to cut corners. So called "self interest" is another name for tunnel vision:
But to Harper — like Harris — deregulation only made sense. Harris assumed that small Ontario towns like Walkerton would have the good sense to keep their drinking water clean.
Harper assumed that profit-making companies would make sure that their consumers received safe products.
In both cases, they were wrong.
In Walkerton’s case, as the judicial inquiry later found, those in charge of the town’s water supply exhibited a bonehead determination to break the rules. Because there was no provincial oversight, no one noticed that a particularly virulent strain of E. coli called 0157:H7 had entered the town’s tap water.
The truth is that self interest and the public interest are mutually exclusive categories. Conservatives have been selling the idea that they are synonyms. That's a lie.