Friday, September 19, 2008

To Axe Ritz or Not

Last month Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz made a couple of tasteless comments in a conference call. Upon learning of a listeriosis death in PEI Ritz said, "This is like a death by a thousand cuts. Or should I say cold cuts." He also said, he hopes that the victim was Wayne Easter, his opposition critic from PEI. When news of this broke a few days back Ritz didn't take long after that, to apologize to families of victims of listeriosis, and to Wayne Easter. Now as you might imagine, families are outraged at Ritz, some have accepted his apology and others want his head. The pressure is on PM Harper now to keep him or heave him.

So far, Harper has accepted Ritz's apology. The opposition parties are not so forgiving. Harper was looking solid to win a majority government this time around. However, his support among Ontario swing ridings has fallen from 45% support to 35%, according to a CTV news clip. Ontario is always the maker or breaker. It Harper's overall support declines further, then he might reconsider firing Gerry Ritz.

It's easy to understand the viewpoint of someone who just lost a mother or father to this tragic bacteria. It's a shock, and a very sensitive time for the families. As well, as former Liberal MP Sheila Copps said, it is a very irresponsible example from the top of a department, where behaviours, attitudes and words, ripple down through the bureaucracy.

From another view some families have accepted Ritz's apology. By the PM's account, Ritz has otherwise been a good Minister, and no further chastisement is needed.

There are no happy consequences from this affair. It's sad for the suffering families whose grieving did not need to be compounded. It is sad that a man who is a Minister representing the nation, be inconsiderate, unthinking and cold, himself. It would also be sad to see a man step down from his position over his own human weakness. Imperfection is a quality of being human. Though it was an attempt at a joke, it was done in an unpremeditated way, an attempt at quick wit, but unthinking at the time. As opposed to a crime of prolonged theft from the public purse or other malicious scheming, this was a crime of poor taste rather than a crime of public trust. In Ritz's case, getting the axe might be a punishment exceeding the crime.

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