Monday, August 24, 2009

The view from Hamilton: federal failure on isotopes

The Hamilton Spectator, hometown paper of McMaster University, slammed the Harper Conservatives last week in a vigorous editorial for their "deaf and dumb" act on the McMaster proposal to help out in producing isotopes: "Federal failure on isotopes." It's a pretty hard-hitting and specific editorial. As you will see below, Lisa Raitt responded, but seemed to omit a key element in her letter. First, the editorial:
At a very basic, common sense level, there's something really wrong with the federal government's strategy around the growing medical isotope crisis, and specifically around McMaster University's role in mitigating the crisis.

The university has a small reactor which, with adequate financial support, could partially fill the gap in the production of medical isotopes, critical diagnostic and treatment tools used in cancer and other conditions.
For two years, McMaster has been lobbying the government to make the university a backup producer. It had previous experience in that role back in the 1970s during a previous Chalk River shutdown. But for reasons no one can explain, Ottawa has been deaf and dumb on the McMaster proposal.

Considering the current crisis, and absolute lack of a backup or any other plan, Ottawa and Atomic Energy Canada Ltd. look very foolish, and inhumane to boot, especially considering the presence of a viable backup option in their own back yard.


McMaster says it would need $30 million to support operating its reactor in production of more medical isotopes. That's not a large investment, and it would offer considerable relief. Still, Ottawa is mum.

Mac's director of nuclear operations, Chris Heysel, puts it this way: "We've got Canadian infrastructure here that could be used for the benefit of Canadian patients and for millions and millions around the world."

Why on earth would the federal government not want that? (emphasis added)
Have been doing a lot of the "why on earth" stuff on this issue of late around here too. None of their inaction makes sense when we do have options like McMaster that have been waving their arms in the government's direction for quite some time now. Unless the plan is just to let the Americans step in and have Canada become reliant upon them for our isotopes.

So, very specific points in the editorial, you can imagine that Lisa Raitt would want to provide a clear response. Yet it turns out, no. Raitt wrote a generic letter to the editor in response, "Government is making isotopes a priority," almost as if a staffer reeled off the latest Conservative talking points. The letter is totally oblivious to the McMaster issue. Instead, she offered the usual platitudes such as:
"Going forward, we will continue working closely with provinces, territories, the medical community and distributors on a full range of issues related to the medical isotope file."
Why bother at all? Raitt is apparently at a loss for words in responding to the McMaster solution, it remains hanging out there, unaddressed.

Not good optics for Lisa Raitt in her electoral vicinity down there in the golden horseshoe...

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