Monday, July 6, 2009

Gerry Ritz Finds Listeriosis Outbreak Something to Joke About

When the news first broke that an outbreak of Listeriosis had resulted in the deaths of several Canadians, you might expect the minister responsible for food safety, to immediately step in, or at least take the matter seriously.

Not so with Gerry Ritz. It was in the middle of an election campaign, and he had just one thing on his mind: votes.

Jim Prentice recently drove the Conservatives priorities home when he let it slip that it was votes not voters that mattered; so I suppose Mr. Ritz was just toeing the party line.

However, he took it one step further, and actually thought the whole matter rather funny, so much so that he immediately joked about the demise of the victims. Forget, that it was under his watch, and decisions made by him and his government that caused their deaths. His funny bone was tickled and he wanted to share the feeling.

Minister faces calls for resignation after joking about listeriosis outbreak
Political fallout of crisis will be death by 1,000 cold cuts, agriculture minister quipped
September 17, 2008
CBC News

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz must resign following jokes he made about the listeriosis outbreak, the opposition said Wednesday night.

It is the second time Ritz has been urged to resign because of his handling of the outbreak, which has killed 17 people in Canada and prompted a nation-wide recall of Maple Leaf Foods meat products.

In a statement released Wednesday night, Liberal Agriculture critic Wayne Easter said a media report that quotes Ritz making wisecracks about the outbreak during a conference call with scientists, bureaucrats and political staff was unacceptable.

Sources who took notes during the call told the Canadian Press that Ritz fretted about the political dangers of the crisis, before quipping: "This is like a death by a thousand cuts. Or should I say cold cuts."

When told about a new death in Prince Edward Island, Ritz said: "Please tell me it's [Liberal MP] Wayne Easter."

About 30 people were reportedly on the call at the time the comments were made, including communications staff from the prime minister's office, most of Ritz's staff, Health Minister Tony Clement's policy and communications advisers and senior public servants, including deputy health minister Morris Rosenberg.

The sources spoke to the Canadian Press on condition of anonymity.

Easter said the incident is just another reason why Ritz should be dismissed.

"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," said Easter. "I could never imagine he would show this kind of insensitivity."

NDP Leader Jack Layton echoed the call for Ritz's resignation.

"I think the prime minister [Stephen Harper] has to fire Gerry Ritz as minister immediately, and he has to fire him as a candidate in this election," said Layton.

"I don't see anything funny about what Mr. Ritz said."

For his part, Ritz delivered a public apology for the comments during an appearance in suburban Ottawa on Wednesday.

"It was a highly stressful time," he said in prepared remarks.

"Many people were working countless hours and attending countless meetings to keep on top of the situation. In that context, I made a couple of spur of moment, offhand comments. In particular, one about my official opposition critic, whom I have already called to apologize.
"My comments were tasteless and completely inappropriate. I apologize unreservedly."

Since it erupted last month, the listeriosis outbreak has resulted in the recall of close to 200 meat products. There have been 14 deaths in Ontario, and one each in British Columbia, Alberta and New Brunswick.

The Canadian Medical Association Journal released an editorial Tuesday that slammed the federal government for its handling of the outbreak, saying Harper's Conservative government has reversed much of the progress previous governments made in relation to public health.

Harper is aware of Ritz's comments and said he felt they were inappropriate, the prime minister's spokesman Kory Teneycke said Wednesday night.

Teneycke said, however, that he had no expectation Ritz would resign following the gaffe, adding that Ritz is not disputing the comments reported by the Canadian Press.

"I will say these comments were clearly inappropriate," Teneycke said .

"And we are pleased the Minister of Agriculture has made an unreserved apology for those remarks and that he has also apologized directly to Mr. Easter."

The conversation on Aug. 30 began with talk of the mounting death toll and trends in the spread of the disease, according to the Canadian Press.

Ritz reportedly began the call by asking: "Are there any more bombs out there?" — referring to any politically damaging news.

The discussion later shifted to communications and how to frame the government's message.

The Liberal party called for Ritz's resignation earlier this month, accusing the minister of staging a coverup over changes to food safety inspections.

The Liberals claim that under the Tories, a new inspection system was implemented that diminished the role of food inspectors and inspection of food.

Ritz rejected the calls for his resignation, insisting that no cuts were made to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and that more money, in fact, had been allocated to the department. (NOT TRUE!!!)

The opposition parties were not the only ones upset with Gerry Ritz.

Son of Listeriosis victim calls for Ritz's firing
September 18 2008 News Staff

The son of a woman whose death last month was linked to the nationwide listeriosis outbreak is calling for the firing of Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz.

Dennis Schroh's mother, Elizabeth Schroh, died on Aug. 24 at the age of 82. She was a resident of a nursing home located in the riding Ritz represents as a member of Parliament.

Schroh told The Canadian Press he was upset when he found out that Ritz had joked about the deadly outbreak during a conference call with scientists and political officials just six days after his mother's death.

In that conference call, Ritz said he hoped the Prince Edward Island victim of a deadly listeriosis outbreak was Liberal agriculture critic Wayne Easter.

Ritz also said: "This is like a death by a thousand cuts. Or should I say cold cuts."

At the time, 12 people had died from the outbreak, including Elizabeth Schroh. At least 17 deaths have been linked to the Listeria outbreak.

"It's something a person should not be saying at this time at all. It's not a joke," Schroh said from his home in Swift Current, Sask., on Thursday. "I mean I wouldn't say that about anybody."

He said it's now up to the leader of the Conservatives to fix what has happened, since Schroh doesn't believe the apology Ritz issued was sincere.

"If Harper is the right kind of person to run this country, he's got to do the right thing and get rid of this minister. Simple as that," Schroh said. "There's no doubt about it in my mind. It is going to affect the outcome of the election.

Back to - The Gerry Ritz Story: Can't Fall Back on Comedy

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