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Elizabeth May guestblogs on the Linda Keen/Gary Lunn nuclear fiasco at Scott’s Diatribes.

(Foreword: There have been many comments on the blogs over the firing of Linda Keen in the middle of the night and the circumstances surrounding it. One of those was from Chris Tindal, Green Party blogger and candidate who I met at the Progressive Blogger BBQ in Toronto last August. I casually asked Chris out of the blue if Green Party leader Elizabeth May would like to express an opinion on the Keen firing and how Gary Lunn and Harper have handled the situation in an op-ed on a blog. A day later, Ms. May contacted me and was pleased to do so, so my thanks to Chris for arranging this and thanks to Ms. May for agreeing to blog on this topic. Note that the opinions expressed by Elizabeth May does not necessarily reflect those of myself or of this blogsite – Scott)

I am honored that Scott’s DiaTribes asked me to submit a guest blog on the firing of Linda Keen. If you check the Green Party website, you will see I have written a lot on this already and had a fair go at a number of the nation’s national news shows as well. So let me summarize and throw in some new observations.

Clearly, Lunn should resign. Ministers have done so in the past for far less. Minister Lunn has interfered in a decision making process before a quasi-judicial board. I don’t know how he can have gone to law school (and a good one at that, University of Victoria, where my step-son and daughter in law were among his classmates) and have failed to learn some basics of the independence of regulators. Political interference in such boards is a large no-no. I leave open the possibility that he did know this but was ordered by his boss, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, to forget what he knew. Harper clearly does not understand the rule of law and the role of independent officers of parliament and senior civil servants. Auditor General Sheila Fraser commented on the disquieting nature of the late-night firing of Linda Keen on CBC’s “The House.” It was a shock to the traditions of our democracy.

Minister Lunn should also resign for mismanagement of the nuclear file. As he reports on his own website:

Minister Lunn speaks frequently about the need to streamline the regulatory approval process for energy and mining projects in Canada, and has made this a personal priority as he enters the next phase of his mandate.

Clearly, he has been so busy trying to reduce regulation of industry and so keen to fast-track approval of nuclear reactors to increase tar sands production, that he missed the warnings from the Auditor General that the replacement reactors for Chalk River (Maple 1 and 2) were running eight years behind schedule and far over budget. He missed that “deferred maintenance” referenced in her report amounted to a risk that the aging NRU reactor could be expected to have trouble meeting the demand for its radio isotopes.

Nevertheless, Minister Lunn’s performance is not as critical in reviewing this mess as that of his boss. Prime Minister Harper bears the brunt of responsibility for personalizing and politicizing the handling of the NRU shut-down. From his nasty turn in Question Period when he chose to describe the entire Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission as “Liberal appointees,” Mr. Harper has embraced the gutter on this issue (Admittedly, he is not known for taking the high road. He would need a map to find where the high road is).

There are layers within layers of inappropriate abuse in Harper’s attack on the CNSC. The first layer is that all government appointed bodies are appointed by some government or other. The individuals appointed to Governor in Council appointments are not to be tarnished with the politics of those who appointed them. It is not in our traditions to do so, and in this case in particular, it was nonsense.

The next layer of contempt for our institutions was in Harper’s preference for attacking the President of the Commission. Again, this reflected a complete ignorance of the nature of Commission decision-making. The decisions of the CNSC are not those of the President alone. Ms. Keen could not have been acting unilaterally. Attacking her, and now firing her, for being the chair of a commission that reached its own conclusions about how to treat a regulated industry that had chosen to ignore its licensing requirement, was, again, inappropriate and unfair.

And now I turn to an unexamined aspect of the Harper abuse: sexism. The ways he spit out the name “Linda Keen” day after day in Question Period, suggested he felt he could make hay out of the fact the President of the CNSC was a woman. If CNSC member Dr. Christopher Barnes, with both an Order of Canada and membership in the Royal Society of Canada, had been its President, I simply cannot imagine the Prime Minister rounding on Michael Ignatieff, as he did in the House, demanding if he was prepared to wait for “Dr. Christopher Barnes” with the scorn in his voice he emoted for “waiting for Ms. Keen!”. The Prime Minister has sought to attack and humiliate a career scientist and civil servant who happens to have been one of the few women to hold a senior position heading one of Canada’s quasi-judicial agencies.

So, on top of contempt for the role of quasi-judicial decision-making, bullying arms’ length regulators, a cavalier attitude towards the safety of nuclear reactors, negligence in ensuring the supply of 40% of the world’s medical radio-isotopes, and railroading the House into allowing the nuclear industry to regulate itself at the NRU reactor, we can add to the list of offenses a mean-spirited sexist streak.

Taken together, a breath-taking case for unsuitability to govern based on one incident.


11 comments to Elizabeth May guestblogs on the Linda Keen/Gary Lunn nuclear fiasco at Scott’s Diatribes.

  • Deb Prothero

    Brilliant response to the issue, Elizabeth. We need you in the debates to keep the heat on and then in the house to put things straight. I don’t agree with all Green platform ideas but I sure do have respect for someone who can bring clarity to a debate.

  • Thanks Scott and a big thank you to Elizabeth May for working so hard on this issue.

    Harper & Lunn need to go!!!

  • Blackstar

    That the Conservatives would play politics with nuclear reactors is beyond the pale. It makes the blatant sexism seem rather mild by contrast. Sexism = disdain for half the population at best, at worst, it is a wish to marginalize that half, to the point of depriving a person of their right to pursue a vocation and support themselves financially. This last is clearly an expression of the intent to starve and thus, ultimately, an intent to kill. I say starve because I don’t know about you, but I work to eat mainly, providing shelter and seeking happiness is a lovely consequence of working for adequate pay and at a job one enjoys.  The sexism was obvious prior to the ’06 election and one of several factors preventing me from considering these Conservatives as an option. What was not obvious before that election is this strange love affair with nuclear power. The quiet joining of the Bush Global Nuclear Energy Club by Canada has raised few eyebrows. This, combined with the knowledge after reading what that club intends (the return of all nuclear waste to uranium exporting countries, ergo, Canada = World nuclear waste dump), the sudden clamour for Alberta to power the rape of the north with nuclear energy, the continued disdain for science and denial of climate change coupled with, "well, we will just go nuclear" when these arguments fail to dent the facts before them, combined with the bullying,  contemptuous and arrogant attitude, combined with this ineptness and now negligence at Chalk River, combined with blatant use of nuclear safety for political purposes which favour private enterprise and the Conservative party and the skill at changing the subject to Afghanistan in recent days, has me shitting in my pants. How about you? This playing politics with nuclear safety is an expression of an intent to disregard the lives of the entire population and this is where the sexism grows paler by the minute and things become quite sinister and malevolent. What is it with these people and their love of pollution and dangerous substances? Why isn’t this hotly debated? I have read anti-nuclear literature which stated clearly that uranium runs out in 15 yrs? If true, we invest billions in something deadly in its potential and dead in the water after a few decades? How can anyone still believe this Harper gov’t and most notably, the leader, can be described as smart when clearly they are dumber than a bag of hammers. I have also read that nuclear power is not profitable and often subsidized? Why is corporate welfare ok, but feeding starving, homeless people is shameful and they can just ‘get a job’? What happens to the nuclear plants if bird flu, or antibiotic-resistant infections wipe out all the people who run them? Do they shut off and go to safety mode on their own, indefinately? I feel a little paranoid. I am starting to think these people would happily kill us all in defense of their ideology. I feel like demanding benign solutions for our energy needs. Ones with longevity and economic viability. Non-toxic would be great, too. The answer is clearly solar. Solar panels, thin film printable solar, solar thermal power plants. This last is very exciting – thousands of mirrors heating up a single point, water boils, steams and voila! Can we have a debate about this, one with teeth! Please.  Thank you Elizabeth, for refusing to change the subject! Keep talking. Some of us are listening and nodding our heads vigourously.

  • Herman Thind

    You guys talk about the Harper/Reform-a-Tory sneer like it was something new.  Growing up on the Prairies I viewed plenty a "grassroots" Reformer (including Harper) rant about anything construed as "middle of the road", left of center (left of them – which basically means everyone else), against minorities, immigrants, the disabled, "special interest groups" (anyone who wasn’t white and male apparently), and, yes, women (to wit, they often ranted about feminists with the EXACT same sneers. 

    What did people expect when the Alberta-based redneck reformers took over the proud old PC Party???

  • Kenn Chaplin

    In addition to the rest of your blog, thank you Ms. May (via Scott) for pointing out the sexist sneer that I noticed, too, whenever P.M. Harper has mentioned Linda Keen’s name. 

  • quaietur

    Great post!
    Lunn’s claim that he wasn’t previously aware of any problems at Chalk River went unchallenged by Craig Oliver on ‘Question Period’ Jan 20. But it doesn’t square with the facts:
    "Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., the operator of the Chalk River reactor, has known about the problem with the backup cooling system for more than two years. Lunn has known about problems at AECL, if not for that long at least since Auditor-General Sheila Fraser produced a report earlier last year detailing a number of ongoing problems."

  • Whooee! Congrats, Scotty, fer gettin’ the gal I adore, Earth Mother Lizzie May, to post on yer boog. I gotta give full marks to Lizzie, too. It’s nice to see a federal party leader reaching out to bloggers and taking us seriously. I had a live, meatspace meetin’ with Lizzie May yesterday. I wrote about it on my own little boog.

    I wish you coulda been there, ScottFeller. I was with our local candidate and he had previously expressed a few doubts about Lizzie as party leader. On the trip home, Frank told me, after seeing her in person,  he was convinced we have a leader — a real leader. Now, if we could just get May into the TV debates, all Canadians would know what Frank now knows.


  • Jay

    Don’t forget that all this bluster about nuclear isotopes and health of Canadians/Global citizens was bit of a stretch. Europe has eight weeks supply which would have been enough to allow this reactor to come online when it was safe. The region that this nuclear reactor is located in suffered two minor earthquakes at the end of December so it is geologically active and there is definitely a risk. More risk than that of an isotope shortage.

  • "Harper clearly does not understand the rule of law and the role of independent officers of parliament and senior civil servants."

    Oh, I think he understands them, he just doesn’t like them.

    "Mr. Harper has embraced the gutter on this issue"

    I’m curious what issue exists where he and his lapdogs don’t embrace the gutter.

    "Taken together, a breath-taking case for unsuitability to govern based on one incident."

    Amen to that. They did all this with a minority, imagine what these mean-spirited ideologues would do with an unstoppable majority. Its not worth the risk.

    I’m curious as well, about the coincidence of timing of this entirely Conservative manufactured crisis – just as this government is looking to privatize AECL. I’m sure someone could get it from the government for a song now….

    Meaning of course that it was Gary Lunn, in Cahoots with Tony Clement, under orders from Stephen Harper, precipitated a health care crisis (which was entirely avoidable) for political and ideological benefit to the Conservative Party and financial gain for for private industry.

    Calling them unfit to govern is being too kind.

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