Archive for September 25th, 2008

No humour allowed in Canadian politics

September 25, 2008

The Canadian election appears to be proceeding as expected. Negative ads prevail and the media is more interested in verbal gaffes than issues. All par for the course.

Minister of Agriculture Gerry Ritz makes a politically incorrect joke on a supposedly private conference call and one of his bureaucrats rats him out to the media.

Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz was forced to apologize yesterday for “tasteless and completely inappropriate” jokes on an Aug. 30 government conference call during the listeriosis crisis.

“This is like a death by a thousand cuts. Or should I say cold cuts,” Ritz quipped after fretting about the political dangers of the crisis.

And when told during the conference call about a new death in Prince Edward Island, Ritz remarked: “Please tell me it’s Wayne Easter.”

Easter, the Liberal MP for the P.E.I. riding of Malpeque, is his party’s critic shadowing Ritz’s Agriculture Department.

The Canadian Press reported the comments last night, citing sources who took notes during the call.

Actually, I thought the comments were pretty funny, being a fan of black humour and all. But the media then escalated the whole issue by calling people who had experienced death in their families from the listeriosis outbreak to inform them of Ritz’ comment and to get their reaction; which is pretty tasteless in its own right.

Evatt Merchant, a lawyer with the Regina firm that’s handling listeriosis-related class-action lawsuits in six provinces, called Ritz’s comments “totally inappropriate and incredibly insensitive,” especially given that families are still grieving the loss of loved ones.

“Now, you have comments that have been made that revictimize the families, in terms of giving them the impression that their own government doesn’t appreciate just how devastating a tragedy this is,” Merchant said from his firm’s Calgary office.

But who in fact actually revictimized those families? Ritz, who made a flippant remark in a private conversation or the bureaucrat who leaked that conversation and the media who imposed on the privacy of those families to get a story?

Of the course the usual suspects called for Ritz’ resignation.

Both Easter and NDP Leader Jack Layton called for the minister’s resignation last night.

“I’ve already called for Mr. Ritz’s resignation over his handling of the listeriosis outbreak and his failure to tell the truth to Canadians about the government’s role in it,” Easter said. “I could never imagine he would show this kind of insensitivity. This is just one more reason he needs to be dismissed.”

Layton denounced Ritz’s remarks on the conference call as “utterly unacceptable.”

As did Stephane Dion.

In truth, the whole episode tells me more about the mentality of the federal bureaucracy than it does about Ritz.

And the media thinks that the Prime Minister is paranoid about the bureaucracy he inherited from the Chretien Liberal government. You think?


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