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Union Can’t Find New Inspectors

The new workers “must be ghosts, no one can find them, they’re nowhere.”

– BOB KINGSTON

The wrangling between the Harper government and the union representing food inspectors at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is on again following the presentation in Parliament of a report that says the agency has added 93 inspectors to its ranks since last year.

Bob Kingston, president of the Agriculture Component of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, said in an interview June 2 the new workers “must be ghosts, no one can find them, they’re nowhere.”

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz tabled the CFIA report that said it had 4,703 inspectors on staff at the end of March compared to 4,610 at the same time in 2009. The union has frequently criticized CFIA and Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz for not hiring sufficient inspectors and has suggested the deadly 2008 listeria outbreak at Maple Leaf Foods was caused by a shortage of inspection staff.

Ritz keeps saying the government has boosted CFIA’s budget so it can increase its inspector contingent, which accounts for more than half of 7,200 staff.

Kingston keeps wondering where they are. Inspectors would become members of his union, so he would have a handle on how many there are.

In her report last year on the listeria outbreak, special investigator Sheila Weatherill said she had problems determining how many inspectors worked at CFIA or their workloads. She called for a special study on the issue. Government officials can’t confirm if it has even been started.

On May 28, Ritz presented Parliament with a brief report entitled CFIA Population and Inspection Staff. It says that from its early days in 1997, the number of inspectors at CFIA has risen from 3,139 to 4,703 in March of this year.

“These positions are crucial to CFIA’s inspection and enforcement responsibilities as they conduct tasks such as laboratory testing, food safety investigations and veterinary evaluation.” He said since the Harper government came to power in 2006, the number of inspectors has risen by 11 per cent.

Kingston says there are some new faces around the agency “but they’re not even keeping up with the attrition as people retire.” He says the government is “being liberal in what they consider to be inspectors. We want to know what the government is doing to shore up the shortages.”

Speaking in the Commons May 31, Malcolm Allen, the NDP food safety critic, said that in March, CFIA told Parliament it had hired 35 new inspectors but they required some training. The agency was continuing to look for another 135 inspectors in part because the United States wanted greater assurances about the safety of Canadian foods.

Pierre Lemieux, the parliamentary secretary for agriculture, said that every time the government proposes measures to improve food safety, the NDP opposes it.

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