OTTAWA – I hope that everyone had a restful and pleasant Thanksgiving weekend and had no difficulty getting back into the swing of things this week. The House is not sitting this week so it’s probably a good time to take another look at some issues that have come up on the news agenda in the last little while.
On September 22nd the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers at the Pigeon River border crossing south of Thunder Bay made a large seizure of cocaine that was bound for our region. Officers seized more than 14 kilograms of cocaine with an estimated street value of more than $1.7 million. This was a large seizure for our region and underlines the importance of the work carried out by our CBSA agents and staff to keep our schools and streets safe in Northwestern Ontario.
It’s obviously impossible to tell what illicit materials (ie: narcotics, fire arms, banned literature, etc .) and people make it into our country each day, but I can tell you that the threat to our health and well-being is real and that we should be finding new ways to support the work of CBSA agents across the country. Unfortunately, the Harper Government has taken the opposite approach and has cut funding, staff, and even the number of sniffer dogs at the CBSA. All of these decisions have made it more difficult for border agents at Pigeon River, International Falls, and Rainy River to intercept these daily threats.
Despite knowing about the problems at XL Foods for more than a month now the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is still unable to say that the threat to public health posed by E-Coli contamination is contained. In fact, more products are being added to the recall list every day or so and now includes products on store shelves in Hong Kong . More than a dozen Canadians are now sick with E-Coli poisoning directly linked to the XL slaughterhouse in question, and more than 1.5 million pounds of beef products – from sausages to ground beef and steak – have been recalled from dozens of supermarkets chains across the country.
The CFIA and CBSA are in similarly difficult positions. The demands for their services, food safety and border security, are greater than ever before but both are being asked to do more with less by an out-of-touch and tired Harper Government. Something has to give, and in the case of food safety it already has. I hope XL Foods case is prompting a re-think of the cuts to the CFIA that have yet to be enacted by Mr. Harper. The CFIA budget is being cut by $46.6 million over three years and the agency is losing 315 full-time inspectors and veterinarians. Without question, Harper’s cuts to the CFIA are a serious mistake that threatens the safety of our food supply.
Also last week a study on the occurrence of depression among working Canadians was released, and the findings should serve as a wake-up call for all governments in Canada. The headline finding was that more than 1 in 5 working Canadians (22 percent) are presently living with clinical depression, and another 1 in 6 (16 percent) have suffered from it at some point in the past. That is a lot of people who are directly suffering, but all Canadians are paying the price as the estimated cost of depression to the Canadian economy is $51 billion per year. These figures are shocking, but even more so when we note that the sample population of the study was “working Canadians,” which excludes youth, students of all ages, the retired, those who are unemployed, and stay at home parents among others who some say are more vulnerable to this particular illness.
So it was a good few weeks for the CBSA agents at the Pigeon River border crossing, a terrible month for food security in Canada, and an eye-opening week for those of us who care about improving the mental health of Canadians and reducing related economic costs of depression.
John Rafferty MP