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I AM SICK and tired of waiting for our so-called "leaders" to stop nattering about the federal budget deficit, and instead roll up their sleeves and DO something about the worsening Canadian-earthworm crisis.

In case you are not aware of this crisis (which was brought to my attention by alert readers Nadine Lindst and Carla Hagstrom), let me bring you up to speed:In early May, the Canadian Press Service sent out a report that began: "GEORGETOWN, Ontario - More than 50 worm pickers beat each other with steel pipes and pieces of wood in a battle over territory." The story states that two rival worm-picking groups "arrived at the same spot at the same time" and started fighting over who would pick worms there. A number of people were hospitalized, four cars were wrecked and a van was set on fire.

At this point, you have the same questions I did, namely:

1. These people were fighting over WORMS?

2. Is there some kind of new drug going around Canada?

In an effort to answer these questions, I called Canada, which has telephones, and spoke with Detective Sgt. Michael Kingston of the Halton Regional Police. He told me that worm-picking is a big deal in Ontario, which produces a long, fat style of worm that is prized by fisherpersons as well as the fish.

"There's a huge market," Kingston said. "On a good evening, an industrious worker can make about $185 picking these worms." He said there's intense competition for prime picking locations such as golf courses, where the worms come to the surface at night to breed and smoke cigarettes.

No, I'm kidding about the smoking. Worms aren't that stupid. They surface to breed and soak up dew. Kingston said the worm pickers, many of whom are Vietnamese immigrants, wear miners' hats with headlamps and drop the worms into cans strapped around their ankles. Doesn't that sound romantic, in a Wild West kind of way? I like to think that, at the end of the night, the pickers, ankle cans clanking, stride into the Worm Pickers Saloon, where they pay for their whiskey by slapping hefty nightcrawlers down on the bar.

But this is not what happens. What happens is that the pickers load vast quantities of worms into their vehicles and proceed to drive on Canadian highways. This has led to a scary new development: worm spills. I am not making this up. Here's a quotation from a May 25 story written by Timothy Appleby for the Toronto Globe and Mail:

"TORONTO - A van carrying a group of Vietnamese worm pickers overturned west of Toronto yesterday morning, leaving eight people injured. . . . The accident occurred a few hundred metres from where another van full of Vietnamese worm pickers crashed and rolled 10 days ago, sending 18 people to the hospital."

The story quotes a constable as saying "I've never seen so many worms in my life."

As any traffic-safety professional will tell you if he has been drinking, worms on the highway are a recipe for disaster. Suppose a crowded tour bus is tooling along a Canadian highway at a metric speed of 130 hectares per centigram, the unsuspecting passengers chatting away happily in Canadian ("Eh?" "Eh?" "Eh?") when suddenly their laughter turns to screams ("EHHHHH!!!") as the bus encounters a giant worm slick and spins, out of control, off the road, and the passengers are hurled out of doors and windows, landing in the Canadian woods, injured and moaning ("ehhhhh"), unable to protect themselves from wild mooses pooping on them or sadistic beavers repeatedly tail-slapping their faces.

Your natural reaction, as a humanitarian, is: "So?" But perhaps you will not be so blase when I inform you that, according to a Canadian bait expert quoted in the Globe and Mail (I am still not making this up), most of the Canadian worm crop is shipped, in tractor-trailers, TO THE UNITED STATES. Yes. This means you could find yourself in a car directly behind a large truck containing, by conservative estimate, 137.4 bazillion Canadian earthworms. And if, God forbid, something went wrong and the truck's entire cargo suddenly got dumped onto the road, you could find yourself plowing, at upward of 60 miles per hour, into a writhing slime-intensive worm mass nearly TWICE the size of Rush Limbaugh.

What can we do to prevent this? The obvious solution, of course, is to set up a Worm Blockade on the border, enforced by U.S. Customs agents, who would inspect incoming trucks with the aid of fiercely loyal, specially trained worm-sniffing trout. ("Rex found some! Good BOY, Rex!") But this would only drive the worm traffic underground.

A better long-term solution would be a massive federal "Buy American" program aimed at U.S. worm consumers, including a requirement that all domestic worms be clearly labeled "DOMESTIC WORM." This would also create jobs in the chronically depressed U.S. worm-branding industry.

Oh, there would be Canadian objections ("Eh!"). But that is precisely why we have nuclear weapons. If you agree with me on this issue, I urge you to send a strongly worded letter to: Failed President Clinton, c/o Air Force One, Runway 17.

Another thing you should do, if you agree with me on this issue, is seek professional help.