About the Blog:

Guelph Politico is locally sourced and dedicated to covering the political and cultural scene in the City of Guelph. Est. 2008.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Put Upon the Ritz

“This is like a death by a thousand cuts. Or should I say cold cuts.” The innocent words of a drunken (by power) Agricultural Minister. Gerry Ritz said this to staffers in the Prime Minister’s Office and Health Minister Tony Clement’s office during a discussion of the listeria outbreak traced to Maple Leaf Foods in August.

Now that would have been bad enough, he then added this little quip when told about a death in Prince Edward Island: “Please tell me it's (Liberal MP and Agriculture critic) Wayne Easter.”

Under the best of circumstances, people would have said that this "joke" was in bad taste. But if Ritz's "I hope it's Flanders" moment was bad enough in its own right, it's nothing compared to the gathering storm about the quip that PM Harper now has to deal with. Let's do the checklist of who's lining-up to take a swipe at Ritz:

Stéphane Dion - He said in Manitoba today, “Every day that Stephen Harper fails to fire Mr. Ritz, it's another day that he proves to Canadians that Stephen Harper doesn't have what it takes to stay prime minister of Canada.” The Liberal Party is also unveiling an ad that amongst other things says that Ritz was “joking as Canadians died” and asks if Canadians “really want more of this?”

Government scientists and food experts - “Minister Ritz has repeatedly disappointed the professional scientists and inspectors who work for him during the listeria crisis,” said Michele Demers, President of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada. “The comments he apologized for yesterday are the last straw. Crisis requires real leadership and Mr. Ritz is clearly not fit to lead.”

Family members of those that died of listeria - "I think Mr. Ritz showed very poor judgment and a lack of respect for the Canadians he's representing," Mary Hicks, mother of 36-year-old victim Kristen Hicks, told CBC News. "It's something a person should not be saying at this time at all. It's not a joke," Dennis Schroh, son of 82-year-old victim Elizabeth Schroh, said in an interview with the Canadian Press from his home in Swift Current, Sask., on Thursday. "I mean, I wouldn't say that about anybody.

Former Member of Parliament and Conservative pundit Val Meredith - She said on CBC Newsworld today, "What should have happened is Gerry Ritz should have taken responsibility for what he did and resign on the spot, and that would have cleared the air. It would have taken it out of the media attention, out of the election issue bag, and allowed this election to be run on the issues that seem to be looming, and, you know, Canadians are concerned about the economy. And they need to be able to talk and to hear what the leaders have to say about that."

Danny Williams - Come on! You knew he wasn't going to keep silent on this. "More and more since 2006, this undercurrent of intolerance has been bubbling to the surface and manifesting itself in federal policies that, to put it frankly, are absolutely unprogressive and absolutely un-Canadian," he said yesterday.

The New York Times - Well, they really didn't have anything bad to say about, they simply reported about the matter in today's online edition.

Canada.com tried to put a "gallows humour" spin on the matter, but for the most part, people are pissed. Just don't tell Stephen Harper that. "These are terribly unfortunate cases (and) it's obviously why we're making sure, going forward, not just that we're investing more in the Canadian food inspection system, but we're going to do a thorough review of all the issues here, to make sure these kinds of things don't happen in the future," said Harper. "Minister Ritz clearly did not intend to make any such comments publicly and has thoroughly apologized."

So, just to translate, it's okay because the comments were never intended to be heard by the public, especially the people directly affected, like those with family members killed or suffering because of the outbreak. Now given the fact that who might hold the Agricultural Minister's portfolio in about three and a half weeks could change, I'm more than willing to let the matter rest. But I've been wondering the last couple of days, what if the shoe had been on the other foot? Would Harper be this forgiving if a Liberal minister had made a joke at the expense of 19 dead Canadians?

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