Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Andrew Coyne is Wrong--and so are Stephen Harper and Gary Lunn

On January 17, 2008 as part of the The CBC National's At Issue Panel , Maclean's National Editor Andrew Coyne opined that a unanimous vote of Parliament to resume the operation of the Chalk River nuclear reactor represented such an enormous vote of non-confidence in Linda Keen's judgement that she had an obligation to resign her position as President of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC). In the event of her failure to resign, the Government's decision to fire her was deemed by Coyne to be entirely appropriate, and the Opposition's complaints about her firing were deemed hypocritical.

The internationally accepted level of risk for risk of a nuclear accident is one in a million; Ms. Keen ascertained that the risk at Chalk River was actually one in a thousand. She therefore decided not to re-start the reactor after a routine shut-down. As Ms. Keen testified in Committee today, The CNSC did not have the authority to take the production of medical isotopes into account, at least beyond December 10, 2007. (Indeed, that is why the Government subsequently felt compelled to change the regulations in order to broaden the CNSC's mandate.) The Prime Minister's over hasty and unworthy accusation of Ms. Keen's partisan motivation revealed the ugly side of his own character--as a mean-spirited politico hell-bent on seizing any excuse to remove Liberal appointees, quite literally seeing red where no such judgement was evidently called for.

When the issue was raised in Question Period today, the Conservative spokesman Peter Van Loen childishly rattled off a list of mandarins that the Liberals had fired--again unwittingly confirming the attitude of the Government.

Mr. Coyne, usually a fairly astute commentator, points out how unusual it is for a senior public official to have her judgement overturned by a unanimous vote of Parliament. But what if it wasn't her judgement that the majority of Parliament (i.e. the non-Conservatives) were overturning? What if it was just a case of Parliament exercising its broader mandate by responding immediately to medical shortages of isotopes? In other words, what if Linda Keen was simply doing her job, and Parliament was simply doing theirs? Should that necessarily make her position "untenable"?

Mr. Coyne is a smart guy and a fine journalist, and he should be forgiven for occasionally being mistaken. This is one of those times. But if the broader public and the media were to agree with him, the effect would be to let Prime Minister Harper and his trademark vindictiveness off the hook far too easily.

1 comment:

Mark Crawford said...

Here's a pertinent question: would you rather have the President of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission basing her decisions exclusively on nuclear safety considerations, subject to override by Government on other (medical) grounds, or would you rather have her charged with balancing nuclear safety and medical considerations and worrying about being fired if she makes the 'wrong' decision?