Toronto–Budget cuts made without proper risk assessment, decisions made at the Cabinet level that were implemented too fast, and an ideological-bent to less government and cutting red tape by the Mike Harris Tories, are among the fault-findings that Justice Dennis O’Connor wisely identifies (in his long-awaited report) as contributing to the tainted water tragedy in Walkerton.
“Justice O’Connor has verified what many of us who oppose the hurtful policies of this government have warned for years, that the Mike Harris Tories and their single-minded ideology, fixed on slashing public services and privatizing, puts us all at risk.
“Despite Mike Harris’ apology on behalf of his government, it is evident the Tories have learned nothing from their reckless cost-cutting. When asked by reporters if he felt government budget cuts to the environment ministry created risks contributing to the tragedy, Harris still insisted that his government made no reductions in expenditures that created a factor of risk. Harris made the statement, despite knowing the emphasis and culpability that Justice O’Connor places on government cuts that were too deep and implemented too fast.
“That’s an arrogant and potentially dangerous position to take, especially after you have just publicly accepted the blame the report lays on the government,” says Sid Ryan, the Ontario president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).
Ryan points out that all of the leadership candidates now vying for the Premier’s job are responsible for the policies of the Tory common sense revolution. Just days before the Walkerton report was made public, several of the would-be leaders reaffirmed their commitment to the policies of ‘common sense’. They indicated the revolution is not over and that they will go further down the road to even less government and more privatized services.
“Tory government policies continue to put Ontarians at risk. Over the past year they have been relentless in eliminating countless workplace standards, and in cutting the red tape that ultimately protects the health and safety of workers on the job. Cuts to social programs have resulted in homelessness and starvation for thousands,” says Ryan.
At his testimony at the inquiry, Premier Harris attempted to lay all the blame on errors made by the utility manager and staff. But, says Ryan, it’s clear from the report Justice O’Connor believes the government’s “distaste for regulation” and the lack of government regulations after water-testing labs were privatized are also to blame for the tragedy.
“In many ways, Harris’ and his Cabinet’s share of the blame is much more profound than the fault attached to the ill-trained utility staff. Harris and the Cabinet knew better. They received repeated warnings from knowledgeable staff that their policies were putting people at risk. But still, they knowingly and willingly ignored all the warnings that could, according to the report, have prevented deaths and serious illness,” says Ryan.
For more information please contact:
Sid Ryan, President CUPE Ontario
Stella Yeadon, CUPE Communications