Under pressure to act four months after promising a probe into the deadly food poisoning outbreak, sources say Prime Minister Stephen Harper will appoint former Edmonton health authority president Sheila Weatherill to conduct a fact-finding study of the tragedy.
Weatherill's mandate is broad, giving her the power to peer inside federal or provincial health ministries and food safety agencies. As well, she will study meat handling in other countries to find ways to prevent a repeat of the outbreak.
But she will not be allowed to declare criminal or civil wrongdoing nor will she have the power to subpoena witnesses or compel testimony. It appears most of her work will be conducted as a one-person investigation.
Her findings will be made public after the final report is filed with federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz by July 20.
Beyond determining the precise causes of the mid-2008 outbreak, Weatherill has been ordered to review all federal organizations with particular attention to the efficiency and effectiveness of Canada Food Inspection Agency, which is responsible for ensuring the safety of food products. (emphasis added)A one-person investigation with no powers to enforce her ability to get answers. No wonder they're launching this on a day on which it is bound to be overshadowed. How crass is that anyway? 20 people died from this listeriosis outbreak and the announcement of an investigation of what happened is launched at a time that's politically opportune for the Harper government. They hope no one's watching, let's not kid ourselves.
So, this is the extent of the commitment from the Harper government. Does nothing to dissuade from the view that they want little to come out of this that points a finger in their direction and they've probably done as much as they can to tie the hands of the investigation by limiting her powers. Food safety should be an issue that's of highest priority and the investigation should be rigorous and fully supported by the federal government. The ability to get to the bottom of what happened, as Harper stated when he announced the investigation months ago, should be a meaningful commitment and important enough to warrant full investigative powers being bestowed. It's difficult to "get to the bottom" of anything if people aren't required to cooperate. We'll see what happens with Ms. Weatherill's pursuit (I suggest she start here), but this is clearly not a Walkerton judicial inquiry. This is a Harper special.