Category Archive: Context

Todays news becomes tomorrow's history. We take today, add some yesterday for context and post it for your reading pleasure at some point in the future. Like now.

Dec 11

Toronto scandals are nothing new, here’s why you shouldn’t let them ruin your Christmas

Toronto scandals?

Toronto is a world-class city.

So it does scandals big… um, yeah.

Ask any city politician.

Toronto scandals are nothing new. The city has survived weirdness long before Rob Ford became mayor.

Toronto scandals are nothing new. The city has survived weirdness long before Rob Ford became mayor.

Forget Rob Ford. He’s a rank amateur.

Toronto has had a world-class scandal that includes all the usual stuff of scandal — sex, abuse of power, stupidity, cupidity, and money — and, in a uniquely Canadian twist, a professional hockey player.

According to Justice Denise Bellamy, who was appointed to probe the scandal, what should have been a routine and even boring computer leasing contract ballooned into a complicated tale of greed, mismanagement, and lying.

The so-called Toronto computer leasing scandal ended up costing the city over $100 million. The biggest cost was the contract between the City of Toronto and MFP Financial Services for $40 million in computers and computer services. The city ended up spending more than $80 million under that contract.


Well, to figure out that (and other aspects of the scandal) the city spent more than $19 million for a three-year inquiry, with witnesses including the treasurer, city budget chief, and a famous hockey player’s brother who worked for MFP. (The hockey player made an appearance at the inquiry to testify on his brother’s behalf.)

Justice Bellamy, who presided over the inquiry, said, “Some people disgraced themselves, failed in their duty to their City, lied, put self-interest first, or simply did not do their jobs.” The report contains more than 240 recommendations for preventing a repeat of the scandal.

Although MFP was not the only city supplier that seemed to cross conflict-of-interest lines, its name is the one most associated with the scandal, primarily because of its leasing contract with the city — a contract that didn’t have guaranteed lease rates and to which additional equipment was allowed to be added without proper approvals, some of the key reasons for the doubling of the price.

Since the beginning of the inquiry MFP has changed its name to Clearlink Capital Corp. By the summer of 2005, it had settled a number of lawsuits with other municipalities in the province.

During the inquiry Toronto decided it would not pay MFP any more money under its contract. But the city relented. In the fall of 2005, Toronto city lawyers recommended a further $9 million plus payout to MFP to settle its claims. After all, they had a contract.

Ah, good times.

But it doesn’t end there.

In July 2001, when Toronto lost its bid for the 2008 Summer Olympics, distraught city leaders wrung their hands and pointed their fingers.

Mayor Mel Lastman was the target of most of the finger pointing. Only a month earlier, before visiting Kenya to

Self-made man and the first mega-Toronto mayor, Mel Lastman was no stranger to the many challenges of running a world-class city. He saw his own share of Toronto scandals.

Self-made man and the first mega-Toronto mayor, Mel Lastman was no stranger to the many challenges of running a world-class city. He saw his own share of Toronto scandals.

promote Canada’s bid to the International Olympic Committee, Lastman noted, “I’m sort of scared about going there…. I just see myself in a pot of boiling water with all these natives dancing around me.”

Many IOC members were shocked, especially those from Africa. Instantly, Canada had a worse human rights reputation than China, which is not an easy feat to accomplish. Lastman had helped cannibalize his own city’s bid. Beijing got the Olympics.

It wasn’t the first time bizarre incidents contributed to Toronto’s losing an Olympic bid. The city also failed to get the 1960 Summer Olympics.

City officials apparently lost the bid because they misplaced some paperwork. An official IOC application had been sent to the city in 1954. But no one filled it out. And no one could figure out where it had gone.

These days Olympic bids are fought and awarded with much front page hoopla. But when Toronto lost the 1960 bid, the news made it to page 28 of the Toronto Star on April 15, 1955. The story was not based on an announcement or even a press release. It was based on a letter from Harry Price, chairperson of the Canadian National Exhibition, to the city’s Civic Parks Committee. The Civic Parks Committee, not the mayor and a thousand others, was handling the Olympic bid. The letter from Price described a phone call he had just received from Sidney Dawes, the official Canadian representative on the IOC. According to Price, Dawes told him Toronto had lost the bid.

But Dawes had some good advice for future bids: always accompany the bids with a little gift for IOC members. Over the years, Dawes said, he had collected some very nice gifts from cities competing for the Olympics.

Decades later, a scandal erupted over the awarding of gifts to IOC members by the organizers of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. IOC members were offered cash and scholarships, trips to Disney and Las Vegas, and tickets for the Superbowl.

But this story was taking place in 1955, and the gifts back then were more understated. It’s always a “very nice gesture,” Dawes advised the Toronto bidders, to send each IOC member a lighter with the city crest on it.

Why, if things continued that way, scandals in Toronto would cost taxpayers dozens of dollars!

Mel Lastman has a very interesting blog to check it out, click here.

Dec 09

Whether you’re a botanist or prime minister, math is hard

Let’s face it, math is hard. Barbie and Christopher Walken (as the befuddled apartment dweller in the SNL census sketch) are right.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative government are getting slagged for their arithmeticatical

Prime Minister Stephen Harper should feel bad if he finds math is hard. Even stellar minds like David Douglas had problems grappling with concepts of math and elements of surveying.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper should feel bad if he finds math is hard. Even stellar minds like David Douglas had problems grappling with concepts of math and elements of surveying.

acumen for the F-35 handling. Maybe, like Walken he’s ‘not really good at math’.

How much will the F-35s cost?

‘Oh geez, I dunno, maybe $9 billion.’

Wow, that seems awful cheap for such high tech kit!

‘I’m not really good at math. Maybe $40 billion.’

The Conservatives have claimed for years the cost of the F-35 was being puffed up by critics. The the parliamentary budget officer weighed in. He said the Conservatives were not accurate in their cost estimates.

Well relax folks. There are lots of other smart folks who are flummoxed by math.

Take esteemed botanist, David Douglas. He’s famous for a bunch of things, including having a tree named after him.

“Being well rested by one o’clock, I set out with the view of ascending what seemed to be the highest peak on the north,” wrote Douglas during his crossing of Athabasca Pass in 1827.

“Its height does not seem to be less than 16,000 or 17,000 feet [5,000 metres] above the level of the sea.”

On top, about seven hours after he started climbing, he noted, “The view from the summit is of too awful a cast to afford pleasure. Nothing can be seen, in every direction as far as the eye can reach, except mountains towering above each other, rugged beyond description. This peak, the highest yet known in the northern continent of America, I feel a sincere pleasure in naming ‘Mount Brown,’ in honour of R. Brown, Esq., the illustrious botanist.”

Douglas noticed a mountain to the south, almost as high.

“This I named Mount Hooker…”

So went Douglas’s record of discovery of the highest points in Canada, indeed in all of North America. Or so everyone thought for the next seventy years.

David Douglas found that math is hard and so are other elements of surveying. Luckily as a botanist, that wouldn’t hinder his success.

Apparently, Douglas had based his estimates of the heights of the mountains on those of an earlier traveller who had lost his barometer.

Douglas didn’t have the best eyesight, but he would have been hard pressed not to have noticed that other mountains in vicinity were obviously taller than those he named Brown and Hooker.

When Douglas’s book and associated maps recounting his experiences in Canada’s mountains were published, Mount Brown and Mount Hooker became well known.

The two mountains became alpine seductresses, always calling but hard to visit.

“A high mountain is always a seduction but a mountain with a mystery is doubly so … I studied the atlas and saw Mounts Brown and Hooker … [and] I longed to visit them,” wrote Toronto geology professor Arthur Coleman.

In 1893, during his third summer of explorations, Coleman finally reached the pass where the mountains were supposed to rise, but the highest mountain he could find nearby was only about 2,800 metres high.

“What had gone wrong with these two mighty peaks that they should shrink seven thousand feet in altitude and how could anyone, even a botanist like Douglas, make so monumental a blunder?” mused Coleman.

The mystery of the highest peaks endured. J. Monroe Thorington, a mountaineer who first came to the Rockies in 1924, wrote, “When I was little, when you were a school-child, geography books taught that the highest mountains of North America — Mount Brown and Mount Hooker — lifted their unsurpassed heights on either side of Athabasca Pass.”

This mythical pair had been talked about for so long and appeared on so many maps that the legend did not die easily. Even experienced Rockies mountaineers such as Walter Wilcox and Norman Collie still believed they may have existed and continued the search.

Finally fed up, Collie searched the libraries of England for Douglas’s original account. He noticed that Douglas claimed to have climbed Mount Brown in a single afternoon.

“If David Douglas climbed a 17,000 foot peak alone on a May afternoon,” he wrote, “when the snow must have been pretty deep on the ground, all one can say is that he must have been an uncommonly active person,” Collie wrote.

“For nearly seventy years they have been masquerading in every map as the highest peaks in the Canadian Rocky Mountains; they must now retire from that position, and Mts. Forbes, Columbia, Bryce, and Alberta will, in future, reign in their stead.”

That put the wooden stake through the mountain monster myth that until then would not die.

Today, Mount Logan, of the Elias Mountains, in southern Yukon, is recognized as being the highest point in Canada. It’s 5,954.8 metres tall.

Douglas is remembered as a fine botanist, so fine that the Douglas fir was named after him. He is not, however, remembered as a fine mountaineer.

For more on Stephen Harper and the F-35s click here.

For more on David Douglas click here.

Dec 05

2012 banner year for senate reform

It’s been a banner year for supporters of senate reform.

In fact, it almost appears Prime Minister Stephen Harper has handpicked some of his appointments to underline the need for reform in Canada’s chamber of sober second thought, something Harper has ardently supported for a long time. (The need for reform, not the chamber itself.)

The senate is usually below most people’s radar, and when it pops up, it’s usually not for a good reason.

Senator Marjory LaBreton is not afraid of senate reform.

Senator Marjory LaBreton is not afraid of senate reform.

Senator Mike Duffy said his compensation for living in Ottawa is only fair but critics say it's another reason to consider senate reform.

Senator Mike Duffy said his compensation for living in Ottawa is only fair but critics say it’s another reason to consider senate reform.

The latest controversy over Harper appointee Senator Mike Duffy claiming more than $33,000 in living allowances has raised the profile of the senate and the question of the capacity of our senators for sober second thought yet again this year.

Just last month, similar living expense claims by Harper appointee Senator Patrick Brazeau prompted a review request by Senate Government Leader Marjory LeBreton. LeBreton, another Harper appointee, says she’s asked the Senate’s board of internal economy for a definition of what the rules are and whether Brazeau’s expenditures are inappropriate. LeBreton is from Ottawa, and so she said she doesn’t know the precise rules for the housing allowance.

A story by CTV News recently reported Brazeau was claiming the housing allowance for

Senator Patrick Brazeau is not afraid to mix it up. He got into a twitter battle with a reporter after her story highlighting his high level of absence in the senate, another for reporting on woman's human rights complaints and he has now drawn fire for claiming as primary residence his faither's home 134 kilometres away from Ottawa. Senate reform was a plank in the platform of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the man who gave Brazeau his seat in the senate.

Senator Patrick Brazeau is not afraid to mix it up. He got into a twitter battle with a reporter after her story highlighting his high level of absence in the senate, another for reporting on woman’s human rights complaints and he has now drawn fire for claiming as primary residence his faither’s home 134 kilometres away from Ottawa. Senate reform was a plank in the platform of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the man who gave Brazeau his seat in the senate.

a home in Gatineau while listing as his primary residence his father’s home in Maniwaki, Quebec. Meanwhile, said the CTV story, neighbours of the Maniwaki residence said they didn’t think the senator lived there.

Duffy claims a cottage in Prince Edward Island as his principal residence, but he’s lived in Ottawa, where he worked as a journalist since the 1970s. Duffy bought the Ottawa-area house, located next to the Kanata Golf and Country Club in 2003. Harper appointed Duffy to the senate in 2008.

Duffy began billing the Senate for living expenses in 2010. Since September 2010, Duffy has charged the Senate $33,413 for living expenses in the National Capital Region.

When questioned by a reporter about his housing arrangements, Duffy – a former reporter himself – wrote in reply, “the other option is to stay in a hotel and I assume the housing allowance is in lieu. I’ve done nothing wrong, and am frankly tired of your B.S.”

Conservative Senator David Tkachuk, head of the Senate’s board of internal economy, says Duffy’s expenses are entirely within the rules. (Tkachuk was appointed to the Senate in June 1993 by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney just before he retired as Prime Minister.)

“When you travel to Ottawa, you get expensed for living in Ottawa.”

Tkachuk says there is no test for determining primary residence. Elections Canada suggests Duffy votes in Kanata but there is no rule saying senators must vote in the province of primary residence. Tkachuk said “it’s where you pay your taxes and where you get your mail.”

When making political donations, Duffy has listed both residences as his home.

(Duffy and Brazeau aren’t alone in making living expense claims. In fact, only a few senators have not availed themselves of the allowances. LeBreton, former Ottawa police chief Vern White appointed by Harper, Jim Munson, a Prime Minister Jean Chretien appointee, and Colin Kenny, appointed by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, all represent areas within 100 kilometres of Ottawa and are not eligible for the allowance. Liberal Marie-P. Charette-Poulin of Northern Ontario, a Chretien appointee, is eligible and has not claimed any housing allowance. Pierre De Bane of De la Valliere, Que, who was appointed by Trudeau just before he retired as Prime Minister, did not take an allowance. And Senator Ann Cools of Toronto has made no housing claims. She sits as an independent senator and was appointed by Trudeau.)

Brazeau’s time in the spotlight because of the housing expense question isn’t his only bit of fame and senate attention this year. As the youngest senator, he’s also the fittest and he tested his mettle in a charity boxing match against Liberal member of parliament Justin Trudeau. Trudeau won with a technical knockout.

Last June Brazeau was in the news for a battle in the Twitterverse, taking on a reporter from the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network for a story about a human rights complaint involving Brazeau when he was at the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples. Then, once again on Twitter, he called Canadian Press reporter Jennifer Ditchburn a bitch, for her story highlighting the fact the youngest senator has the most missed days from senate work. He later apologized.

Senator Romeo Dallaire is a Canadian hero. He has continued his public service in the senate. He has said his high absentee level is a result of his research and public appearances, but still some say it is a reason for senate reform.

A number of senators have been noted for being absent from work (and close to the threshold of being fined for more than 21 days away), but some of them have provided explanations more specific than “personal reasons”. Senator Romeo Dallaire is tied with Brazeau for days away, but Dallaire lists public appearances and overseas research as his reasons. Dallaire is a former Canadian Forces general who has been researching child soldiers overseas, particularly in Africa. He has also publically challenged the current government’s foreign aid strategies based on his research. Dallaire was appointed to the senate by Prime Minister Paul Martin.

Conservative Senator Janis Johnson is also listed currently as a senator with a lot of

Senator Janis Johnson admits she has a high level of absenteeism in the senate lately, but says overall, she has a strong record. Her reason for the recent change is her duties as the sole care giver for a family member with a terminal illness.

Senator Janis Johnson admits she has a high level of absenteeism in the senate lately, but says overall, she has a strong record. Her reason for the recent change is her duties as the sole care giver for a family member with a terminal illness.

absent days. She has said her absence is due to personal health issues and being the sole caregiver for a terminally ill aunt.

Johnson was appointed by Mulroney.

And there have been other instances this year of senators drawing attention to themselves.

In October, Grant Mitchell, a Liberal senator from Alberta (yes, that’s right, a Liberal senator from Alberta) appointed by Martin, made news for suggesting clawing back their pensions could lead to parliamentarians considering bribes.

“All of our MPs are above reproach, but the pressures of not making enough money can become an issue and that is why [take-home salary] needs to be maintained at a certain level. We could talk about brown paper bags with cash in it, because there is pressure all the time. That is why pay needs to be absolutely adequate.”

At least once in the history of the senate, in 1997, the senate actually turned on one of its own. In the fall of that year, Senator Andrew Thompson drew fire from fellow senators for showing up for work only a few days at the start of each session. Thompson claimed poor health for his poor showing and would bring in notes from his doctor. He had been appointed a senator in 1967 after stepping down as leader of the Ontario Liberal Party because of health problems including a heart murmur, high blood pressure and exhaustion. Twenty years later, he was still ill. And still drawing a cheque. Finally, after a high profile protest started by the Reform Party, he was turfed from the Liberal caucus and resigned four months later from the senate. He went on to draw his pension.

It’s the fact senators are political appointments rather than elected representatives and the perks they get (like the salaries, absentee policy, travel and living expenses and pension) that draw most criticism.

Since he became head of the Conservative Party, Harper’s campaign platforms regularly include senate reform. But it’s reported he has cooled to the idea because of the threat of a challenge at the Supreme Court to any changes to the Senate.

A recent story in the Toronto Star said, “Under the guise of a projected Supreme Court reference on Senate reform, Prime Minister Stephen Harper may be about to bury his party’s grand plan until at least the next federal election and, possibly, for all time.”

Some political leaders, including Dalton McGuinty, Premier of Ontario, until he’s replaced and Thomas Mulcair, federal NDP leader, want the senate abolished altogether and Brad Wall, premier of Saskatchewan,  has suggested it’s one possibility he would consider.


For more on Senator Mike Duffy, click here.

For more on Senator Patrick Brazeau, click here.

For more on former senator Andrew Thompson, click here.

Dec 05

Senator Mike Duffy defends senate against critics of expenses

Mike Duffy appears in this youtube video, exasperated at the criticism of senator spending.

Nov 28

The F 35 fighter probably seemed like good idea, so did the ADATS

You know, the F-35 fighter probably seemed like a good idea at the time, for Canada.

The current Canadian Conservative federal government is wrestling with the challenge of replacing the Canadian CF-18 fighter.

It’s a twin engine plane, something considered important for survival as it patrols the vast emptiness of the Canadian north and the country’s three coastlines.

The Conservatives all but declared the F-35 the replacement aircraft until it got out that the true cost of the aircraft would be almost double what the government was saying it would be.

It’s also a single engine fighter, something that can be a problem when one engine goes on the fritz. If you have two engines, you get home. If you have one not-working-engine you get to watch your plane crash in flames while you drift down into the arctic wasteland or the frigid north Atlantic or Pacific under the canopy of your parachute. If you’re lucky.

Now, um, the whole thing is, up in the air? Sorry.

The opposition to the decision is expected to gain strength next month.

Between now and Christmas, KPMG is expected to table it’s review of the cost of the fighter to Parliament. It’s expected the Conservative government will be accused of mismanagement by opposition parties.

It should shoot the fighter deal down.

Well, we’ve made bad decisions before. In fact, the Progressive Conservatives were looking around for an air defence weapon at the end of the cold war.

That’s right, although not always thought of as a major player on the world scene, Canada was just as worried as other countries during the Cold War, so officials began casting about for a system to protect our troops from enemy aircraft. By the time Canada actually pulled the trigger on the decision and the system was delivered, well, it was 1989; the last of it wasn’t delivered until the early nineties. The Cold War was over and the Soviet Union was no longer a monolith.

this seemed like a good idea at the time.

This ADATS weapon seemed like a good idea to the Conservative government at the time in Canada. It turned out to be a costly machine to operate and hard to transport.

Still, the world is a dangerous place. And our troops should be protected. So just what did we get to do the job?

Well, the Progressive Conservative government in power at the time did what governments generally do – ignore the real needs of the Canadian Armed Forces for something that will cost lots of money and never be used.

So it considered a system designed by the Swiss company Oerlikon-Buehrle. Now its name – the Air Defence Anti-Tank System, or ADATS – is a bit misleading, suggesting as it does that the system defends against tanks in the air (which are well known to be more heavy and brick-like than aerodynamic), but actually the system is made to shoot down both low-flying aircraft and tanks.

The more analytical among us might wonder what those two things have in common that makes a consolidated defence system a good idea. And the more economical among us might question the practicality of missiles that cost $300,000 each. At that price you might want to try just waving a cheque for $250,000 in front of the tank crew and offering to buy the tank from them, pocketing a handsome $50,000 for yourself.

The ADATS has some good points. For example, the ADATS missiles move really fast. They approach Mach 3. That’s three times the speed of sound. That’s faster than most jets. So they can catch up to a jet without problem. And if they hit one, there won’t be much left of the jet.

Of course, if the jets are flying low, which low-flying aircraft generally are, there are frequently trees and buildings and hills and such obstructing the line of sight, so often there just isn’t enough time to lock onto them and then “service” them (as military personnel euphemistically term it) with a missile.

The missiles can certainly catch a tank. Tanks move at about sixty kilometres per hour, maximum, on a smooth road, leaving plenty of time for the missiles to lock onto them.

Of course, today’s tanks are very heavily armoured. Chobham armour, which is a British invention, is made of layers of steel and ceramic. Even old Soviet-era T-72 tanks — which don’t have Chobham armour, just feet and feet of steel plate — are tough. So while the tanks can be caught, they can also easily withstand a shot from a kinetic energy weapon like the ADATS — at least from the front.

The armour at the back end of a tank is much thinner, so if the ADATS could hit it from behind, it would be game over for the tank. Of course, to do that, the ADATS would probably have to go behind enemy lines. And the ADATS is not heavily armoured. If it were hit from the right angle, an assault rifle or a rocket-propelled grenade could shoot it up.

The ADATS also has an anti–air radar dish, which makes it tall. And therefore difficult to hide behind enemy lines.

In fact, the ADATS is so tall, the military had to create a “clenching kit” to make the ADATS shorter for shipping. The kit bolts onto the bottom of the chassis and clenches the torsion bars to make it lower.

Unfortunately, because the ADATS is so heavy, the corroded loading ramps on the Hercules cargo aircraft that carry the ADATS overseas have to be buffed up to take the weight, which means the ADATS, even clenched, is too tall to fit on.

And given that our troops need protection overseas, there’s not much point in keeping the ADATS in Canada. Its range is ten kilometres. At that rate, we can’t even shoot past our territorial waters.

So, thanks to the Cold War – and typical government decision-making – what we ended up with is a system that can destroy a jet but has challenges locking on to it, that can catch a tank but has challenges destroying it, and that isn’t really needed at home (which is all to the good, of course) but is too tall to be shipped overseas where it’s needed most.

Eventually, the military realized that the missiles are too expensive and they’re not all that effective at disabling a tank, so they ordered ADATS to be used only in an anti-aircraft role. So much for the consolidated defence system.

But it gets better.

The full ADATS system with missiles and maintenance and all that good stuff, has cost taxpayers about a billion dollars – so far.

It’s so expensive it is rarely deployed even domestically (although during the G-8 Kananaskis conference in 2002, it being less than a year after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Canadian military actually sent some of the precious anti-air units off to the wilds of Alberta to help protect the G-8 leaders against a terrorist attack). And it has not been used for training since the time one rolled over and severely damaged the expensive radar and missile system.

Now you have to understand, Canada ordered just over 30 ADATS. The cost per vehicle is about $30 million per vehicle. Yes, $30 million. It was hoped the cost to Canada would be defrayed by the Swiss selling the system to other countries, like the United States. But only Canada and Thailand showed interest.

Scott Taylor, perhaps Canada’s best military affairs journalist, wrote in his magazine Esprit de Corp:

“With no chance to expand their sales, Oerlikon-Buehrle cut their losses and pulled its funding out of the Canadian ADATS program. The result was that the Canadian government alone (read: DND’s budget) was left propping up the entire project. With all the start-up costs and research and development factored into the equation, the original 32 units manufactured cost taxpayers over $1 billion – a staggering $30 million per vehicle.
“During a 1992 training exercise, a transport trailer carrying an ADATS unit rolled over and crushed the vehicle’s high-tech turret. When DND accountants wrote off the loss, the brass suddenly realized that they couldn’t afford to even train with such expensive toys. At that time, all remaining ADATS vehicles were mothballed at the St-Jean-sur-Richelieu factory, with maintenance costs of approximately $40 million per year being paid to Oerlikon.”

In 2005, the Canadian government under the Liberals, initiated a $750 million modernization program for the weapon system which was cancelled in 2006 due to complications with the concept.

Now it looks  like they will be stationed outside museums and similar sites across the country, more likely to be sitting places for feathered aircraft.

Well, as long as they’ve found a good home, right?

For more on the F 35 click here.

For more on ADATS click here.

Nov 14

An allergy is something to sniff at…

North of Toronto, Ontario, a mother is fighting to have oak trees removed from a park next to where her daughter goes to school because of an allergy concern..
The Vaughan mother is worried the acorns from the trees could come into contact with her daughter, who is in Grade 8, and cause her to go into allergic shock.
Allergists say the nuts would have to be ingested to cause a health problem.
Allergy problems have doubled over the last 20 years. One study has found peanut allergies to be more of a problem among children in well-to-do families.

Britannicus may have been Roman royalty but he still suffered from a common allergy.

Claudius, emperor of Rome, had a son who didn’t become emperor, possibly because of his allergy problem.

Even pop star Justin Beiber has allergies, as you can see here.
Allergies are nothing new. They’ve been recorded historically for thousands of years.
The earliest record of an allergic reaction is the death of King Menses of Egypt sometime around 3640 and 3300 BCE (or BC if you’re old school). He was killed by a wasp sting – no ‘epi-pens’ back then.
The Roman philosopher, Lucretius (99 BCE to 53 BCE) who noticed some people’s problems with common things said “what is food for some may be fierce poisons for others”.
Claudius (10 BCE to 54 CE), the Roman emperor and subject of the great British television series I Claudius, had a son, Britannicus, who was allergic to horses. He “would develop a rash and his eyes swelled to the extent that he could not see where he was going” according to Seneca.
This allergy affected more than just Britannicus’ health. Since he couldn’t ride at the head of the young patricians, Claudius’ adopted son had that high profile position. Britannicus never became emperor, but the adopted son – Nero – did.
Sir Thomas More described how King Richard III used his allergy to strawberries to arrange for the death of Lord William Hastings – a judicial murder.
At a Friday-morning council meeting, Richard smiled at Bishop Morton saying,” My lord, you have very good strawberries at your garden in Holborn; I require you, let us have a mess of them.”
(Seriously? “Let us have a mess of them?” But golly, aren’t you allergic?)
Shortly after their lunch, with strawberries, Richard had a meeting with Hastings. During the meeting, not surprisingly, he developed acute urticaria or hives. He accused Hastings of putting a spell on him and that was it for Hastings.
By the 1800s, allergies had come to the ah-ah-ah-choo… attention of modern science. The ever popular hay fever, which has nothing to do with hay or fever, was described in 1819 by Dr. John Bostock.
In 1869, Charles Blakely applied pollen to a break in his skin to determine if he was allergic. He was. That method is still used today to test for allergies.

Race ahead to 1902 when Paul Portier and Charles Richet coined the word ‘anaphylaxis’ while researching immunizations and spotted life-threatening responses to medications and protein substances. It happens fast and can cause vomiting, tissue swelling, cramps, drops in blood pressure and loss of consciousness. It was probably what killed old Menses. Some of the common causes are penicillin, insect stings, tree nuts, peanuts and shellfish.
In 1906 Austrian Pediatrician Clemens von Pirquet used the word ‘allergy’ to describe non-disease related symptoms that some diphtheria patients developed when treated with a horse serum antitoxin.
By 1911-1914 John Freeman and Leonard Noon nudged science towards immunotherapy or allergy shots. This consists of injecting the sufferer with small amounts of whatever bothers them until they build up a tolerance. (This also works sometimes with cool jazz and rap music.)
Daniel Bovet synthesized the first antihistamine drug in 1937. Antihistamines can block histamine and also protect against some of the symptoms of anaphylaxis.
In 1948, Philip Hench and Edward Kendall found corticosteroids, which was key in the treatment of asthma and both immediate and delayed allergic reactions. They are still used today.
Then in 1953 Geoff West and James Riley discovered the mast cell granule was the major source of histamine in the body, through research on a long time subject, a 10 year-old cocker spaniel named Judy. Judy, who had a mast cell tumour, had the highest histamine content ever recorded. Judy, Judy, Judy!
Dr. Kimishige Ishizaka and his wife, Teruko, discovered an antibody class in 1966, a discovery regarded as a major breakthrough in understanding allergies.
In 1982, Professor Bengt Samuelsson was awarded the Nobel Prize for medicine (with two other scientists) for finding the cause of “slow reacting substance of anaphylaxis” called leukotrienes.
This field has grown enormously since those days. Between 1981 and 1995 about three thousand papers per year were published that specifically used the expression “prostaglandins,” or related terms such as “prostacyclins,” “leukotrienes,” and “thromboxanes,” in their labels and titles.

For more information on allergies, click here.

Nov 10

Dickishness is nothing new in politics

It’s nothing new.

Our politicians, no matter what country, often leave office reviled.

And so boring old Canada’s most populous province, Ontario, is getting a new leader. Dalton McGuinty, the provincial premier announced he was stepping down, opening the door for the Liberal party leadership position and the Premier’s chair that goes with it – at least temporarily.

McGuinty is not thought of highly at the moment. Even so, he would have to go a long way to beat some other politicians. In fact, Ontario’s record for politicians has been spotty at best. Even from the start, it was shaky.

When revolution was brewing in Upper Canada in the 1830s — that would be Ontario nowadays — the British government realized a strong, smart leader was needed.

So whom did they send to settle the problem? Francis Bond Head, a man that England’s Punch eventually referred to as “Sir Francis Wronghead.” So much for the strong, smart leader. Some would say, nothing new in politics here!

Proving there is nothing new in politics is the example of Sir Bond Head.

Bond Head was called “Wrong Head” in an English magazine article.

Bond Head had served in the Royal Engineers, so he knew how to blow things up. He had applied for but was turned down as the head of the London police when he returned from military service, which included serving at Waterloo. He had written a number of excellent travel articles. He had demonstrated the military usefulness of the lasso. For this he was knighted.

But — no background in politics.

He was as shocked as anyone when a rider arrived at his home in the middle of the night to rouse him from his warm bed with the news.

His own father had run from the United Kingdom after spending the family’s wealth on gambling and the high life. His father had kept in touch with him, asking for money on a regular basis. The possibility of elevating his family seemed near with the offer from the Crown to run Upper Canada. He asked for a baronetcy and got it. And off he went to the New World.

A letter to his own son, Frank, revealed Bond Head’s bewilderment at the posting: “You will think it rather a strange event when I tell you that I have come in to take leave of the King on assuming the Government of Canada. I know very little more than yourself [about the running of a country].”

But that didn’t stop him from trying. When he and his family arrived in York, they were greeted with banners calling Bond Head a reformer. In fact, Bond Head wasn’t a reformer. He was a conservative and he snuggled right in with the Family Compact — the elite group of well-to-do families and wealthy merchants who controlled the government because they had the right to overrule the elected assembly, which represented the vast majority of not-so-wealthy people who weren’t in the Family Compact.

The Family Compact thought the common folk were a bit revolting.

Soon they would find them more so.

In fact, it was unhappiness with the Family Compact that was causing the rebellion. Bond Head was in town for only a week when he started to annoy the vast majority of the population. He had diagnosed the problem and was ready to proffer a prescription. As a “political physician” he lacked nothing but an understanding of the situation. When it came to the reformers, he said he would “mercilessly destroy them root and branch” and would “very soon be able to report proudly that the grievances of Upper Canada were defunct because I had veni-ed, vidi-ed, vici-ed them.”

As you might imagine, this did not end the talk of revolution.

William Lyon Mackenzie had garnered a reputation in Great Britain and was warmly greeted by the politician in charge of the United Kingdom’s colonies. MacKenzie’s book of complaints against the Family Compact was taken seriously in Great Britain and Bond Head was told to address the concerns. He responded by calling the document “Mr. Mac’s heavy book of lamentations.”

To settle things once and for all, Bond Head dissolved the government and called an election. And he ran a good old-fashioned election. By Upper Canadian standards, that meant corruption, violence, intimidation, riots, and a careful consideration of where the polling stations were positioned.

Orangemen — members and supporters of the Family Compact — played a prominent role. “Orangemen running up and down the streets crying five pounds for a liberal [reformer] and if any man said a word contrary to their opinion he was knocked down; and all this in the presence of magistrates, and judges, who made use of no means to prevent these outrages. The election occurred on the first of July, 1836, and it was a gathering which for riot and drunkenness exceeded everything I had ever seen before,” wrote W.H. Merritt.

After the election, flushed with his inevitable victory, Bond Head wrote to the British Colonial Office, “Nothing can be brighter than the moral and political state of the Canadas. All is sunshine and colour of rose.”

Shortly after this arrived in Britain, rebellion broke out in Lower Canada, now Quebec, and Upper Canada, now Ontario.

When the rebellion broke out in Upper Canada, Bond Head and his friends joined the rank of the militia as they marched north on Yonge Street. With a band marching along, playing “Heart of Oak,” they trooped up to Gallows Hill, and it is not far from there that they ran headlong into the rebels marching south. In the militia ranks were trained soldiers, many who had fought with Lord Wellington in France and Spain, including Bond Head. In the far larger body of the rebels were farmers and store clerks but not many soldiers.

Volleys were fired from both sides before both sides retreated. The militia were convinced the overwhelming numbers of the rebels would swarm them and the rebels were convinced the crack shots of the former British soldiers (whom they still held in high regard) would cut them to pieces.

Bond Head left Upper Canada in the spring of 1838, convinced he had saved the country.

And he had in a way. His inept handling had brought the boil of the Family Compact to a head, so to speak, and allowed it to be lanced. Not that he was thanked for his efforts. Bond Head snuck out of the country, crossing the ice from Kingston to the United States in fear for his life.

In 1867, Head requested and received an appointment to the Queen’s Privy Council for his “contribution to the development of Canada.

He set a benchmark, a low one.

For more on Sir Francis Bond Head, click here.

Oct 21

Canada’s newest saint closes a circle of sorts


Mohawk latest saint in Catholic church
The first Mohawk saint in the Catholic church was canonized on October 21, 2012.

Recognized as Saint Kateri, Lily of the Mohawks, she has been the subject of hundreds of books, including one by Leonard Cohen.

Her canonization is bitter sweet for native Canadians, for whom the Catholic church has a dark legacy of colonialism, conversions and the trauma of residential schools. The rite marks for many a shift in relationship with the church.

Kateri was born into an Iroquois tribe in 1656 in what is now the Lake Ontario area of New York to a Mohawk father and Christian Algonquin mother. At age 4, a smallpox epidemic left Kateri scarred and nearly blind and killed her parents. Her First Nations name, Tekakwitha, means “she who bumps into things.” Kateri was baptized at age 20, and fled to the Jesuit-run native missionary of Kahnawake, where she devoted herself to a life of chastity, piety and extreme penance that included walking barefoot in the snow and piercing herself with thorns.

She spent her final years by the side of the Jesuits and died in 1680, at the age of 24. Witnesses reported that after death, her skin cleared up, a testament to her miraculous curing powers.

The first saints with a North American connection were French missionaries working in what would become central Ontario, in what was the Huron nation’s land.
The Canadian Martyrs:
Saint René Goupil, Jesuit Novice, (Born in 1608, martyred in 1642). Goupil was a trained surgeon as well as a missionary. On 1 Aug. 1642, he left Trois-Rivières along with Isaac Jogues, Guillaume Couture, and a who’s who of the Huron nation, including several Huron chiefs, among them Eustache Ahatsistari and Joseph Teondechoren. The group, which included about 40 people, set out in 12 canoes for the Huron country where Goupil was to use his skills as a surgeon. It wasn’t long before the group was captured by Iroquois who took them back to their village in what would become New York state, not far from Lake Ontario. There, at Ossernenon (Auriesville, N.Y.), Goupil was killed by an Iroquois’ hatchet blow. The warrior had been provoked by seeing Goupil make the sign of the cross over a child of the village. This was on 29 Sept. 1642.

Saint Isaac Jogues, Jesuit priest, (Born in 1608, martyred in 1646). He is also considered an American Saint as he was killed in Iroquois territory in what is today New York State. Jogues escaped death in his first capture by Iroquois. The first time he was captured, he was tortured and had his fingers cut off. He was freed after intervention by a Dutch trader and returned to France for a time, where he was granted special permission to continue serving communion. The Holy Host or communion wafer is supposed to be only touched with the thumb and forefinger. On 21 Aug. 1646 Father Jérôme Lalemant, the superior of the Jesuits of Quebec, decided to send Father Ignace Jogues to the Iroquois country in order to maintain peaceful relations with the Indians. For an associate he was given Jean de La Lande, who was not unaware of the danger to which he was exposing himself. Jogues, La Lande and a few Hurons left Quebec on 24 Sept. of that year. The little band had scarcely got beyond Trois-Rivières when all the Hurons save one turned back, so impressed were they with the dangers of such a journey. When he arrived in Mohawk territory, instead of being treated as an ambassador of peace, he was treated as an enemy and he was dIspatched with a tomahawk blow to the throat that almost severed his head.

Saint Jean de La Lande, layperson, (Born in 160?, martyred in 1646). de La Lande was sent with father Jogues to the Mohawk country to keep the peace. As mentioned above, they were treated as enemies. The layperson knew the dangers of the journey but when the native escort left, his sense of duty prevailed; he had promised to follow Jogues, and he was going to keep his word. Victims for their faith, they were both killed: Jogues on 18 October, La Lande on 18 or 19 Oct. 1646.

The news did not reach Quebec until June 1647. The Relation, the Jesuit account of their mission in North America, gives a long account of Jogues’ martyrdom. Of his associate it says:

“One must not forget the young Frenchman who was slain with the Father. That good youth, called Jean de la Lande, – a native of the City of Dieppe, as has been said, – seeing the dangers in which he was involving himself in so perilous a journey, protested at his departure that the desire of serving God was leading him into a country where he surely expected to meet death. This frame of mind has enabled him to pass into a life which no longer fears either the rage of those Barbarians, or the fury of the Demons, or the pangs of death.”

Saint Antoine Daniel, Jesuit priest, (Born in 1600, martyred in 1648). He was also working in the Ste. Marie area. Daniel was the second Martyr to die. On his return to Teanaostaye in July 1648, the village came under attack by Iroquois forces. Father Daniel did all in his power to aid the people. Before the palisades had been scaled he hurried to the chapel where the women, children, and old men were gathered, gave them general absolution and baptized the catechumens. Daniel himself made no attempt to escape, but is reported to have calmly advanced to meet the enemy.

“Fr. Daniel, in an effort to cause a diversion, took up a cross and walked towards the advancing Iroquois. Seized with amazement the Iroquois halted for a moment, then recovering themselves they fired on him. Daniel’s lifeless body was flung into the burning chapel. Many of the Huron did escape during this incident.”


Saint Jean de Brébeuf, Jesuit priest, (Born in 1593, martyred in 1649). Brebeuf was captured during a raid by Iroquois on Ste. Marie Among the Hurons, which was a French mission near where Midland, Ontario is today. Brébeuf and his fellow Jesuit Gabriel Lalemant were taken to St. Ignace, near Ste. Marie. There they were fastened to stakes and tortured to death by scalping, mock-baptism using boiling water, fire, necklaces of red hot hatchets and mutilation. According to Catholic tradition, Brébeuf did not flinch or cry out while he was being tortured. The Iroquois later cut out his heart and ate it in hopes of gaining his courage.

Saint Charles Garnier, Jesuit priest, (Born in 1606, martyred in 1649). Father Paul Rageneau wrote an account of Garnier’s death which he received from a Petun Indian who was in the Petun village near where Collingwood, Ontario is today in the hills to the west, called the Blue Mountains:

“In his zeal he was everywhere at once, now giving absolution to the Christians he met, now running from one blazing cabin to another to baptize, in the very midst of flames, the children, the sick…

It was in these holy duties that he met his death, which he neither feared nor avoided by a single step. One bullet from a gun pierced the upper part of his chest and at the same time another bullet went through the lower part of his abdomen and lodged in his thigh. . .

“The good Father was seen very shortly afterwards joining his hands and saying some prayers. Then turning his head here and there, he saw a poor creature about ten or twelve feet from him who, like himself, had just received his death blow but had still some life left in him. His love of God and zeal for souls were again stronger than death. He rose to his knees and, after a prayer, stood painfully and moved as best he could towards the agonizing man to help him die well. . . . Some time later the Father received two blows from a hatchet, one on each temple, that went right to the brain. That was the richest reward that he had hoped to receive from the goodness of God for all his past services. His body was stripped and left naked on the ground.”


Saint Gabriel Lalemant, Jesuit priest, (Born in 1610, martyred in 1649). An account of his death appears in the Jesuit papers called The Relations: Relation:

“At the height of these torments, Father Gabriel Lallemant lifted his eyes to Heaven, clasping his hands from time to time and uttering sighs to God, whom he invoked to his aid.” He “had received a hatchet blow on the left ear, which they had driven into his brain, which appeared exposed: we saw no part of his body, from the feet even to the head, which had not been broiled, and in which he had not been burned alive, – even the eyes, into which those impious ones had thrust burning coals.”

Saint Noel Chabanel, Jesuit priest, (Born in 1613, martyred in 1649). Chabanel was killed in December of 1649, possibly on Christian Island in Georgian Bay, where the survivors of the Iroquois raids on Huron villages fled. Father Paul Rageneau said the murderer, Louis Honarreennha, an apostate, who said he had killed Chabanel because of his hatred for the faith, later confessed his crime.

The eight Canadian Martyrs lived in Canada from 1625 to 1649. They were canonized on June 29, 1930 and are celebrated on September 26 in Canada. Their feast is celebrated on October 19 in the Universal Church.

Other Canadian Saints…

Saint Marguerite Bourgeoys, (Born in 1620, died in 1700). Before Marguerite Bourgeoys received official recognition in 1982 as a saint in the Catholic Church, many people had already looked upon her as having the virtues of one. The day following her death, a priest wrote, “If saints were canonized as in the past by the voice of the people and of the clergy, tomorrow we would be saying the Mass of Saint Marguerite of Canada.” Helene Bernier writes, “[P]opular admiration had already canonized her 250 years before her beatification. She co-founded Montréal, was founder of the Congregation of Notre-Dame. She was canonized on October 31, 1982.

Saint Marguerite d’Youville (Born in 1701, died in 1771). Marguerite d’Youville died at the General Hospital in Montreal. She was beatified in 1959 by Pope John XXIII, who called her “Mother of Universal Charity”, and was canonized in 1990 by Pope John Paul II. She is the first native-born Canadian to be elevated to sainthood by the Roman Catholic Church. Her feast day is October 16. In 1961, a shrine was built in her birthplace of Varennes. Today, it is the site of a permanent exhibit about the life and works of Marguerite. She is the founder of the Sisters of Charity, known as the “Grey Nuns.”

Saint Brother André, (Born in 1845, died in 1937). (Also known as “Alfred Bessette”) Perhaps the oddest thing about this saint is that his heart was stolen in the 1970s, but was later recovered. He died in 1937, at the age of 91 and a million people filed past his coffin. He lies in the church he helped build except for his heart which was preserved in a reliquary. It was stolen in March 1973 and recovered in December 1974. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II on May 23, 1982. His first miracle cited in support of his beatification was the healing in 1958 of Giuseppe Carlo Audino, who suffered from cancer.  He was Brother of the religious Order of the Holy Cross. He built the Saint-Joseph Oratory of Mont-Royal at Montréal.

Three of the Canadian Martyrs – St. Isaac Jogues, St. René Goupil and St. Jean de Lalande  – are also considered American saints because they died in what  would become the United States.

Other American saints …

St. Frances Xavier Cabrini (Canonized 1946) (Born July 15, 1850, Sant’Angelo Lodigiano, Lombardy – Died December 22, 1917, Chicago, Illinois). She was a missionary and founder of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. She died of complications from dysentery at age 67 in Columbus Hospital in Chicago, Illinois, on while preparing Christmas candy for the local children. At the time of her death, she had founded 67 missionary institutions to serve the sick and poor as well as train more nuns to carry on the work. Her body was originally interred at Saint Cabrini Home, an orphanage she founded in West Park, Ulster County, New York.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, S.C., (Canonized 1975), (August 28, 1774 – January 4, 1821) was the first native-born citizen of the United States to be canonized by the Roman Catholic Church (September 14, 1975). She founded the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph. The Catholic Church says she was dedicated to following the will of God, Elizabeth Ann had a deep devotion to the Eucharist, scripture and the Virgin Mary. It had been her original intention to join the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, but the embargo of France due to the Napoleonic Wars prevented this connection. It was only decades later, in 1850, that the Emmitsburg community took the steps to merge with the Daughters, and to become their American branch, as their foundress had envisioned.

St. John Neumann, C.Ss.R., (Canonized 1977), missionary and bishop of Philadelphia. Neumann’s work to broaden the Catholic Church throughout his diocese did not proceed unopposed. The Know Nothings  was an anti-Catholic political party representing descendants of earlier Protestant immigrants to North America and the United States in particular. (Many of the early Canadian immigrants came from France and were Catholic). The No Nothings set fire to convents and schools. Neumann wrote to Rome asking to be replaced as bishop, but Pope Pius IX insisted that he continue. On January 5 1860. Neumann dropped dead on a city street of a stroke while on an errand. He was 48 years old.

St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, R.S.C.J., (Canonized 1988), missionary to Native Americans. (August 29, 1769 – November 18, 1852) St. Duchesne was a Catholic Religious Sister and French-American saint. She spent the last half of her life teaching and serving the people of the Midwestern United States.

St. Katharine Drexel, S.B.S., (November 26, 1858 – March 3, 1955) (Canonized 2000) St. Drexel was an American heiress, philanthropist and educator. She build schools and was the founder of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and African Americans.

St. Mother Théodore Guérin, S.P., (1798 – 1956) (Canonized 2006) was a missionary and founder of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.  She was designated by the Vatican as Saint Theodora. She is the foundress of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana. Guerin is remembered for her advancement of education in Indiana and elsewhere, founding numerous schools including Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana.

St. Damien de Veuster of Molokai, SS.CC., (January 3, 1840 – April 15, 1889) (Canonized 2009), leper priest of Molokai. (Dutch: Pater Damiaan or Heilige Damiaan van Molokai) His work in Hawaii is remembered to this day and even Robert Louis Stevenson wrote a letter in support of his candidacy for sainthood.


Oct 18

Food poisoning issue is not new to Canada or even its federal government

Gerry Ritz – "stupid and insensitive remarks" about listeria epidemic – YouTube.

The more things change, the more they stay the same… well, not really.

A meat packing plant in Alberta Canada has been taken over by a Brazilian company after the plant became the centre of attention in an E. coli outbreak triggering a massive beef recall.
XL Foods, based in Edmonton, Alberta and Brazilian owned JBS USA announced the agreement late Wednesday, October 17.

For more, see the blog.

Oct 18

The sad reality of history repeating itself

Some things change, some things don’t… sadly

Canadian Conservative government’s minister of agriculture Gerry Ritz is in the spotlight again.


The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Well, not necessarily where it counts.

A meat packing plant in Alberta Canada has been taken over by a Brazilian company after the plant became the centre of attention in an E. coli outbreak triggering a massive beef recall. XL Foods, based in Edmonton, Alberta, and Brazilian owned JBS USA announced the agreement late Wednesday, October 17.

XL Foods is the second largest meat packer in Canada. and the beef recall is the largest in Canadian history. (The plant exports to 20 countries, including the United States.)

The plant’s licence to operate was suspended September 27 after at least 15 Canadians from four provinces fell ill to E. coli after eating meat processed by the plant. The plant was approved to move ahead with limited operations last week by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

But that is not the thing that has changed or the thing that has stayed the same.

It’s true that for the Conservative federal government, packaging issues at meat plants are a familiar problem.  In fact, 27 years prior to this outbreak, a different Conservative government was in power and facing Tunagate.

The difference? That scandal cost a minister his job.

But let’s stick to this current government, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and the same minister, Gerry Ritz, both of whom were on the scene when the listeriosis outbreak took place across the country in 2006.

Ritz tried to make light of the outbreak with his now infamous comment “death by a thousand cuts … or should I say cold cuts.’’

When he was told someone had died (eventually 20 people died in the outbreak) in Prince Edward Island on the country’s east coast, Ritz joked he hoped it was Wayne Easter, a Liberal MP from the province who was constantly assailing the government.

Who says conservatives have no sense of humour?

Ritz didn’t resign after the listeriosis outbreak and so far, he’s hanging in there with this recent bad beef episode. People have died and he has kept his job.

Compare this with Tunagate.

In the spring of 1985, Fisheries inspectors deemed about 1 million tins of New Brunswick tuna unfit for human consumption. The tuna, federal inspectors said, was rancid and decomposing. Star-Kist Canada Inc., which ran the St. Andrews, New Brunswick, tuna plant, didn’t like that ruling. Neither did New Brunswick Premier Richard Hatfield. So they called up federal Fisheries Minister John Fraser. The plant employed four hundred people, they pointed out. Something like this could shut it down. No worries, Fraser said. He ordered the tuna released for sale on April 29.

Five months later, on September 17, CBC’s Fifth Estate exposed what became known as Tunagate. For a few days, Fraser and Mulroney tried to avoid the mighty big net of public opinion coming their way. Fraser hung on as long as he could. First, he claimed sending the tuna off was merely a judgement call”.

“There was never a question of health,” he told the House of Commons. “What there is is a question of esthetics.” He later told reporters, “Almost all fish will have some scientifically proven taint or some scientifically proven decomposition.”

Only twenty-four hours later, Fraser flipped and asked the federal government to confiscate the 1 million tins of rancid tuna. Many grocery stores, more adept at gauging public opinion than cabinet ministers, had already dumped their stocks.

The tuna scandal threatened to taint Mulroney himself, as it turned out that eight Conservative MPs had discussed the rancid tuna a week before it was released for public consumption. The MPs said they never told their boss, Mulroney, about the meeting.

“That is hard to swallow,” said Liberal Leader John Turner.

Six days after the scandal broke, Fraser resigned. Because of the bad publicity, the tuna plant they were trying to protect was shut down and 400 people lost their jobs.

Nobody died, but Fraser stepped down as Minister.

That was back in the “good old days”.


  • special sections – resigning  ministers and history of contamination


And the award for most resignations goes to ….

Back in the 1980s, Brian Mulroney, the Conservative Prime Minister of Canada must have felt there was a revolving door on his Cabinet because of the number of ministers forced to resign. From 1984 to 1993, Mulroney averaged one cabinet minister forced to resign each year under a cloud.

Here’s the tally:

Defence Minister Robert Coates, after visiting a strip club in West Germany while on official business.
Fisheries Minister John Fraser, after approving 1 million tins of rancid tuna as fit for public consumption.
Communications Minister Marcel Masse, over allegations of violations to the Canada Elections Act. He was later cleared.

Regional Industrial Expansion Minister Sinclair Stevens, because of conflict of interest allegations in a $2.6-million loan to a family company.

Minister of State for Transport Andre Bissonnette, after the RCMP investigated him for land speculation.
Minister of Public Works Roch Lasalle, after being charged with demanding a bribe and taking money from a business looking for a few favours. The charges were later dropped.

Supply and Services Minister Michel Cote, over conflict of interest allegations involving a loan.

Consumer and Corporate Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt, after pleading guilty to impaired driving

Fitness and Amateur Sport Minister Jean Charest (yes, the recent Quebec Liberal Premier), after trying to talk to a judge about a case before the court.

Housing Minister Alan Redway, after joking about having a gun while getting on a plane in Ottawa.


Not a new problem

Historically, food poisoning has been recognized as a disease of humans since as early as Hippocrates.

In the fifth century BC, the great plague of Athens, probably caused by contaminated cereals, led to the defeat of the Athenians in the Peloponnesian War.

In the dark ages, a poisonous mold that produces the potent toxin ergotamine, induced a spasmodic muscle condition, which the Church named “St. Anthony’s Fire” and interpreted as retribution by God on heretics. Yes, the devil made them do it.

The same mold contaminate was blamed in the 1690s. Three young girls suffered violent convulsions, incomprehensible speech, trance-like states, odd skin sensations and delirious visions in which supposedly they saw the mark of the devil on certain women in the village. The girls lived in a swampy meadow area around Salem where rye was a major staple of their diet. Records indicate that the rye harvest was complicated by rainy and humid conditions, exactly the situation in which ergot would thrive.

The historical record of mass food poisoning in Europe offers a cautionary tale. From the ninth to the 19th centuries, Europe suffered a succession of epidemics caused by contamination of rye with ergot, the consumption of which induces hallucinations, bizarre behavior and violent muscle twitching.

The sale of of rancid, contaminated or adulterated food was commonplace until the introduction of hygiene, refrigeration, and vermin controls in the 19th century.

Okay, um, maybe not commonplace, but still a problem.