Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The credibility deficit: Lisa Raitt kicks it up a notch

Let's see, what else can the Harper government and its bevy of first-timer ministers do to indicate to the Canadian public that the bottom has fallen out of their tenure, just 8 months into their minority mandate. They've blown the nation's deficit sky high, with independent and credible predictions on Tuesday once again contradicting the government's budget numbers and indicating a deficit of $172 billion over a five year period, twice the government's projection. They've mismanaged, to be charitable, overseeing the Chalk River NRU's ability to produce isotopes and failed to obtain viable alternative supplies to the point where Canadians in need are facing devastating shortages. What else could they possibly do at the moment to throw their competence and credibility into even greater question for the Canadian public? Well, the minister presently responsible for the isotope shortage leaving secret government documents in media hands will surely do it: "Secret federal documents reveal full AECL funding."' After all, the Conservatives lost a minister for a similar transgression in the spring. And so many questions are raised by this revelation.
The binder of documents was left nearly a week ago at CTV's Ottawa bureau by either Minister of Natural Resources Lisa Raitt or one of her aides. Some of the papers are clearly marked "secret."
That "or one of her aides" part? Should be irrelevant although you can predict what's possibly coming. But the Minister's documents that travel with her are a matter of ministerial responsibility, not the aide's (BCer concurs).

Other issues raised by the CTV report:

Apparently the documents were left at CTV nearly one week ago. In the wake of the Maxime Bernier resignation over exactly such an incident, nothing has been done to ensure history isn't repeating itself with other ministers? Did the government not miss the documents? Why did CTV sit on them? The announcement of AECL being put up for sale happened on Thursday of last week. That's about a week ago. Was the CTV story held off for that reason to save the government from embarrassment?

Regarding this bit of information discovered in the documents by CTV:
However, it also lists $72 million to "maintain the option of isotope production." The public 2009 budget does not specifically mention funding for isotopes.
Why is this item not in the budget? If it's specifically itemized in internal secret government documents, why isn't it made equally clear in the public budget? Are there any other items that the Conservatives are spending money on that are not in the budget? We are fully aware at this point that Deficit Jim can't count and their budget projections are way, way off (see above). But hello, here's a whole new avenue to consider, items that are being financed but not accounted for properly. The credibility of their numbers comes into question yet again.

Secondly, on that point..."the option of isotope production?" Isn't it a necessity? Their hiving off this $72 million here for the "option" of producing isotopes is rather strange, as if it is indeed optional. Was this related to the sale plans, the dividing of the reactor from the research division?

Another big question: does the following reference to $1.7 billion on the hand-written note that was found match public disclosure of what's been spent on AECL?
The documents also include a hand-written note that lists total funding for Atomic Energy of Canada, Ltd. since 2006 at $1.7 billion, and then a talking-point memo to characterize the spending as "cleaning up a Liberal mess."
Since the $1.7 billion notation is accompanied by defensive spin, it leads you to believe that perhaps we haven't been informed of this full amount. And that bit of typical Conservative distracting blather just rounds out the picture. Raitt herself has gone down that road in the House of Commons this week, following the script. They've been in government for almost 3 and a half years yet they certainly haven't grown up.

There should be accountability here if the same standards are applied to Raitt as were to Maxime Bernier, who resigned. At a time when the Chalk River NRU is shut down and serious work needs to be done to oversee that and all of the issues stemming from it, we should be assured of the competence and credibility of the minister. Leaving secret government documents around and keeping secret spending from the public doesn't cut it.

For more on this topic, see: Blog Post Index: Medical Isotope crisis & Chalk River shutdown.