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Food Safety Study Snarled

A Commons subcommittee set up to examine last year’s listeria outbreak and the state of food safety in Canada choked on a large helping of politics during its first meeting March 25.

The formation of the subcommittee was agreed to more than a month ago by the Commons agriculture committee fuelled by the opposition’s apprehension about the effectiveness of the secretive investigation launched by Prime Minister Harper into the listeria outbreak last year that killed 20 and sickened scores more.

The plan was to hold hearings and write a report by mid-June before the Commons breaks for the summer. But by the time the four parties came up with the list of individuals and groups they wanted to hear from, there were 43 names on it, which meant a rather daunting task of hearing from six or seven of them at each weekly meeting and then writing a report.

So NDP critic Malcolm Allen from Welland, Ont. proposed the committee keeping going until Christmas if need be to hear from everyone and write an interim report in June and final one in December. Not a bad idea except he didn’t share his idea with the government until he introduced it. In the highly politicized atmosphere of Parliament Hill, the Conservatives suspected the worse and filibustered the meeting to keep it from coming to a vote.

Chairman Larry Miller, a usually even-tempered gentleman, rejected opposition protests about the stalling tactics. Miller was obviously peeved, especially after considerable effort on his part to make the subcommittee work.

While the subcommittee is supposed to meet again, it may have been fatally damaged by the tactics employed by the two sides.

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