walkerton -- the media smell blood. It hangs thick in the air on this hot and sticky morning as they mill around in the shadow of the infamous water tower, waiting for the revolutionary to arrive under tight security. After six years, he's finally going to have to answer for his deeds under oath. And this time he can't simply deflect the hard questions as he usually does so effortlessly in the legislature. And there will be no hiding behind taxpayer-funded spin campaigns.
In the parking lot outside the small, two-storey inquiry building, Dian Wood from Sauble Beach holds a sign that reads, "Mike Harris, Milosevic of Ontario."
"An overstatement?" asks one scribe.
Sure, Wood admits, "but he's just so arrogant."
Comparing Harris to a war criminal may be an overstatement. But then, the premier frames himself as a revolutionary, a right-wing Mao who six years ago roamed the Ontario countryside, caravanning into rural towns just like this one to preach from his little blue book about the end of big government and forcing those lazy, fraudulent poor people off welfare.
Folks in these parts loved him. He was their political champion.
That facade was finally dismantled here, of all places, in the aftermath of seven preventable deaths. Thousands became sick when Walkerton's water supply was contaminated with E. coli.
Within a matter of hours, in the stuffy, claustrophobic confines of a small-town hearing room in front of Walkerton locals and the big-city media hordes, all shifting uncomfortably on hard wooden church pews, commission lawyer Paul Cavalluzzo and other counsel finally crystallize Mike Harris's troubling raison d'être: the decimation of the public service and government oversight.
Cavalluzzo achieves what the Liberals and the NDP, the public employees unions, direct action activists and even journalists have failed to accomplish until now.
"This is the first time the government's been confronted with this kind of evidence and hasn't been able to respond by means of another propaganda campaign," says NDP leader Howard Hampton, who takes in the entire proceeding from the public gallery, leaning forward in his chair, no doubt praying that this moment will have a profound impact on the electorate.
Invoking "document after document," Cavalluzzo methodically tears years of Tory posturing to shreds.
Harris attempts to stick to a two-track message. On the one hand, he is accountable for every decision his government makes, yet, as far as he knew, increased risks to the health of Ontarians caused by deep cuts to the Ministry of the Environment were manageable.
If the risks were manageable, why were they never disclosed to the public in the government's environmental business plan?
"That was all information for decision makers," Harris responds.
Don't you think the public was entitled to that information?
Can the premier point to a single document that says the risks to public health were manageable?
Considering the potential risks that were outlined in internal government documents, does the premier agree that the Tories' public contention that they were reforming the ministry "without lowering the current high level of environmental protection in Ontario" was misleading?
Harris basically tells his inquisitor that he doesn't micro-manage his ministries, which is crap.
Everybody knows by now that the premier's office carefully choreographs every piece of major legislation that passes through Queen's Park. And much of it is geared to making life easier for big business.
In this case, the Tories privatized water testing without researching whether private labs could do the job.
The private labs didn't have to be accredited, and the notification protocol that required them to inform public health officials immediately about any adverse finding was not a binding law.
But Cavalluzzo doesn't stop with those damning policies. He goes for the jugular, pointing out that the Harris government was so gung-ho about cutting regulations that they even attempted to interfere in a court proceeding brought by their own Ministry of the Environment.
Cavalluzzo asks Harris if he thinks it was proper for the chair of his Red Tape Commission to write a letter to the Minister of the Environment urging him to back off from the MOE's prosecution of a landfill operator.
While agreeing that it's wrong for the government to interfere in a legal proceeding, Harris claims that the attorney general advised that the letter wasn't political interference, and the Red Tape Commission's action didn't prevent the MOE from proceeding.
Cavalluzzo has to point out to our revolutionary leader that "it's not the fact as to whether the interference was successful or not, it's the fact of the interference that is totally improper and contrary to our Charter of Rights."
The verdict is still out on whether the cuts directly caused the tragedy in Walkerton. But it's never been clearer whose rights the arrogant revolutionary is protecting. @@@@@
MIKE STAYS ON MESSAGE
Number of times Harris used the words "accountable" or "accountability": 18
Number of times he said he wasn't advised of any increased health and safety risks due to cutbacks: 11
Number of times he referred to making government "more efficient": 5
Number of times he referred to inheriting a $10.6 billion deficit in 1995: 5
Number of times he said, "Walkerton was a wake-up call": 4
Number of times he said, "There's risks in everything": 3
Number of times he said he's "responsible for every decision taken by our government": 1
To review the premier's full Walkerton testimony, go to w ww.walkertoninquiry.com and click on transcripts.