Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Oh looky, a Conservative circular firing squad

Boy, it is Christmas week, isn't it...:)

Somebody doesn't like being made the scapegoat over the shut down of the Chalk River nuclear facility. And his name is Michael Burns, former Conservative appointed chairman of Atomic Energy Canada Ltd. who felt compelled to bare his soul to the Globe and Mail today. It's a must read today, if you are at all concerned about the preeminence of partisan politics as a feature of the Harper government. Or if you just happen to enjoy the spectacle of an unplanned outburst, if you will, from a former member of the Harper Conservative fold. Because you know there's nothing worse to them than that.
The former chairman of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. lashed out Tuesday at attempts to blame him for the Chalk River nuclear reactor controversy, calling the Harper government's handling of his resignation “a clumsy piece of political opportunism.”

Michael Burns told The Globe and Mail he submitted his resignation as chair of the Crown corporation on Nov. 29, before the medical isotope crisis stemming from the Chalk River shutdown became public. His departure was announced last Friday with no explanation, but was soon linked by a key cabinet minister to the Chalk River situation.

“I was quite taken aback two weeks later when I heard my resignation had been accepted by the Prime Minister in the midst of the crisis,” Mr. Burns said.

Health Minister Tony Clement has since connected leadership changes at AECL, including the replacement of Mr. Burns, a Vancouver energy executive and onetime Tory fundraiser, as well as the appointment of a new CEO, with the need to give the organization better management. “Well, maybe they do [need better management],” Mr. Burns shot back. “But this is a clumsy piece of political opportunism. If they're going to do it, they could do it with a little more skill.”

Asked whether he felt treated unfairly, he responded: “What's unfair in politics? I just know that the facts won't support it. I was gone for a totally different set of reasons. They dragged this resignation out and attached it to the isotope situation. … They could have taken more care.” (emphasis added)
Yes, they could have. But heck, I don't know what more people need to know about what kind of government the PM is running. Everything's on the table when there's the possibility of the Harper government being made to look bad. Including throwing whomever's nearest under the bus.

Burns' explanation for his resignation is a little cryptic but not if you believe the reports that he and Minister Gary Lunn were trying to sell off part of AECL to private interests:
Mr. Burns said he submitted his resignation, which becomes effective on Dec. 31, after a little over a year in the job because of delays in getting a series of proposed reforms instituted at the Crown corporation. He would not elaborate on the nature of the reforms. He also acknowledges he had become “a bit of a burr under the saddle.”

“There were a number of initiatives that I got started and was waiting [for them] to happen,” he said. “And next year looked as if there was just going to be more waiting. Anybody who knows me knows that I don't wait well. My view was that I had done all I could. … Nobody asked me to leave but nobody begged me to stay, either.

“When I resigned, there was no isotope crisis,” Mr. Burns said.
Could the "initiatives" he refers to include the selling of part of AECL that for some reason has been put on the back burner...say until a Conservative majority could be obtained?

Burns also speaks about the conflict between the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and AECL and has a rather surprising thing to say here:
In a wide-ranging interview, Mr. Burns, who heads a Vancouver wind-energy firm, said the “dysfunctional relationship” between AECL and the nuclear regulator was “an accident waiting to happen” but he insisted that at no time was there a risk to public safety requiring the reactor to shut down for a prolonged period.

Mr. Burns also took issue with Prime Minister Stephen Harper's attack on Linda Keen, chair of the Canadian Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which ordered the Chalk River reactor to extend a routine maintenance shutdown in order to install additional safety equipment, provoking the isotope shortage. Emergency legislation was passed by Parliament last week overriding the regulator and forcing the reactor to restart.

Mr. Harper labelled Ms. Keen, a career public servant, as a Liberal appointee who put the lives of Canadians in danger by cutting off the supply of isotopes.

Asked whether he thought Ms. Keen had acted in a partisan manner, Mr. Burns responded: “I think not. There's no politics in that. There may be administrative politics but there are no party politics in that dispute.”

Yet he also criticized Ms. Keen for being “too rigid for the good of the whole system. A regulator plays an important part in the system but there is some give and take. And rigid positions on either side usually cause trouble.”

Mr. Burns said that the AECL and the regulator were at each other's throats over safety issues for months. Theirs was “a dysfunctional relationship that had to be fixed,” he said.
Another slap to Harper on his slandering of Linda Keen. AGAIN, still waiting for Harper to apologize to Ms. Keen.

And note Burns' position on the CNSC's being "too rigid." Now I don't know about you, but I think rigidity in a nuclear regulator is a good thing. Not something to be criticized. "Give and take" and nuclear reactors just don't seem to go together. But hey, that's just me.

Burns' comments also suggest Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn's performance during this whole episode warrants scrutiny. Burns brings him front and central in this by pinning a date on him that contradicts what the Conservatives have been saying. Here's Burns (again from the Globe report) stating Lunn knew on November 22 about the shut down:
But in November, something clearly went wrong. The reactor went down for maintenance on Nov. 18 and was supposed to come back up on Nov. 24.

However, on Nov. 22, Mr. Burns said, he and Mr. Lunn were advised that the reactor was not going to return to service as expected. “There were regular briefings on the status and it got worse and worse. There was an expectation we were going to get it up any day and it just kept on extending.”
Lunn, however, claimed it was December 3rd. And Tony Clement claimed on Sunday that the Conservatives were on the "outside" of the discussions between CNSC & AECL. Why the discrepancies? Because if Lunn knew earlier, and this thing still spiralled out of control, the worse it looks for the Harpies, that's why.

For the record, Burns wants everyone to know this:
Mr. Burns, a onetime fundraiser for the Alliance and Conservative parties, said he was named to the job for his expertise in the energy industry and not for his Tory connections. “I ended my political work federally in 2000.”
Yeah, if I were Burns I'd want everyone to think I was keeping my distance from these guys too...:) Even if he stopped the federal work in 2000, he's likely still viewed as a long time Conservative guy.

But let's just stand back everybody, and let these guys have at each other...:)