Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Harper Conservatives lack proper temperament for public office

Ritz in hot water over wisecracks during listeria outbreak

OTTAWA - Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz unnerved some public servants at the height of the listeriosis crisis by resorting to gallows humour during a conference call about a public health scare that has now killed 17 people.

Ritz was also deeply concerned about the political fallout from the listeriosis crisis as the deadly disease claimed more victims in the days before the federal election was called, according to sources in on the crisis call last month.

But that concern apparently didn't stop Ritz from cracking wise while scientists, bureaucrats and political staff listened in on the Aug. 30th call.

Sources who took notes during the call said 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."

The disease was linked to cold cuts from Maple Leaf Meats.

And when told about a new death in Prince Edward Island, Ritz said:

"Please tell me it's (Liberal MP) Wayne Easter."

Easter is the Liberal critic shadowing Ritz's Agriculture Department.

About 30 people participated in the Sunday morning conference call that began after 10 a.m. EDT. Participants included scientists, senior bureaucrats and political staff.

Others on the call included 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.

Officials from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency provided updates on the disease during the conversation.

The sources who spoke to The Canadian Press did so on the condition of anonymity. Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government has been relentless in searching for and punishing anyone thought to have provided embarrassing information to reporters.

Ritz emailed an apology that he intended to deliver publicly in suburban Ottawa later 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."

But Ritz was less contrite when he was asked about his comments after his flight from Saskatoon touched down at the Ottawa airport Wednesday afternoon.

A bearded man with Ritz jostled with journalists as the agriculture minister beelined through the terminal to a waiting sedan. At one point the man grabbed a reporter's recorder and jabbed at the off button.

For two minutes Ritz stared dead ahead as he was peppered with questions about the conference call. His only words were clipped.

"Not right now, guys," he said.

Then: "Get out of my face, please."

Listeria can cause listeriosis, a foodborne illness that causes high fever, headache, neck stiffness and nausea that is of particular concern to the elderly, pregnant women and the infirm.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Ritz's remarks were beyond the pale.

"It was clearly inappropriate," said Kory Teneycke. "It was intended as a joke, but some things are not appropriate to joke about."

He also said Ritz had called Wayne Easter to offer a personal apology.

So far, 17 deaths have been linked to the recall of food products from a Maple Leaf Foods plant in Toronto. There have been 14 deaths in Ontario, and one each in British Columbia, Alberta and New Brunswick.

Sources say the Privy Council Office requested and chaired the conference call. This call was chaired by Daniel Jean, the deputy secretary to cabinet in the Privy Council Office.

That office, headed by Kevin Lynch, co-ordinates government policy and harnesses that policy to the formidable power of the public service.

The conversation on Aug. 30 began with talk of the mounting death toll and trends in the spread of the disease.

Sources say Ritz began the call by asking: "Are there any more bombs out there?" - implying any politically damaging news.

But discussion soon shifted to communications and how best to frame the government's message.

There was even talk of Liberal Leader Stephane Dion's Green Shift plan, sources say.

Ritz was not the only cabinet minister to quip about the food crisis.

The plant, where the listeria bacterium was found embedded deep inside slicing equipment, was closed Aug. 20 and reopened Wednesday.

Production resumed under a phased-in period and tests will be done before any food is released to public, said Maple Leaf Foods CEO Michael McCain.

"We have learned from this tragic experience and we can and will do more," said McCain.

"I continue to believe very strongly that Canada has one of the best food-safety systems in the world."

An editorial this week in the Canadian Medical Association Journal blasted the Harper government for undermining public health safeguards.


Anonymous said...

This is a disgrace, the way that Flaherty's jailing the homeless is a disgrace, the way that Harper is a disgrace.

Anonymous said...

What do you expect from these Harper Party Reform Types?

Ritz is a farmer redneck but looking at what Harper gets to pick from for his Cabinet he is the cream of the lackluster crop.

Alan said...

What is with Saskatchewan's Conservatives? They both scandalous and rude, and it dates back 20 years to the days of Grant Devine.

First there was Tom Lukiwski and his homophobic comments, then this guy, Ritz, apparently making like of the concept of death. Is there something in the water out there in the Prairies?

Northern PoV said...

The real listeriosis scandal:
The listeriosis epidemic is a timely reminder that the Harper government has reversed much of the progress that previous governments made on governing for public health.

Anonymous said...

How can you blame Harper for inappropriate comments from Ritz? I think Harper should fire the guy but stop trying to label all conservatives as monsters because of comments from ONE GUY!

Robert Gibbs said...

These monkeys are public politicians and so-called leaders of the country for Christ’s sake.

Certainly, a much higher standard is expected, by the general public at least.


And the daft rubes sure seem to be looking through a different lens, don’t they?

It’s like two parallel, but completely opposite universes/dimensions.

One could lose all his hair scratching his head trying to figure it out.

I guess the premise is true - the voting public is stupid.

How else to explain it?

Robert Gibbs said...

Real Action?
Real Results?
Real Class?

How do they walk without dragging their knuckles anyway?

Robert Gibbs said...

And in a related regulatory matter that has also caused concern, but received little attention, the Harper government has also decided to transfer aviation safety oversight to the airline companies themselves.

Robert Gibbs said...

Canadian Medical Association Editorial Accuses Harper Conservatives In Listeriosis Outbreak

Medical journal says Harper government lowered standards

September 17, 2008

Chris Morris

FREDERICTON–As the death toll rose yesterday from the national listeriosis outbreak, an editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal slammed the Harper government for undermining public health safeguards.

An elderly woman in New Brunswick became the 17th person whose death has been linked to the recall of food products from a Maple Leaf Foods plant in Toronto. It is the first confirmed case east of Ontario.

The New Brunswick Health Department said yesterday that the woman, in her early 80s, was infected with the same strain of listeria involved in the country-wide outbreak – which the CMAJ editorial released yesterday describes as "the worst in the world."

"As in the Walkerton and SARS epidemics, an outbreak of this size may point to systemic failures across multiple levels," states the editorial in the latest edition of the journal, referring to the deadly water contamination eight years ago in Walkerton, Ont.

"Listeria is the biological agent, cold cuts the vector, but the ultimate cause may be found in risky government decisions."

The editorial, signed by several doctors and journal editors, states that Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government has reversed much of the progress previous governments made in relation to public health.

The editorial takes aim at the Conservative government's decision to transfer inspection duties for ready-to-eat meats to the meat industry itself, while allowing listeria standards to remain lower than they are in most countries and reducing the Public Health Agency of Canada's political clout.

The editorial also makes the case for a full-scale, arm's-length public inquiry similar to those for the tainted blood scandal, Walkerton and the SARS epidemic, rather than the investigation called for by the Harper government.

"A full-scale public inquiry into the major failings of Canada's food inspection system is necessary to protect Canadians from future epidemic threats, and the Canadian public should settle for nothing less than that," the editorial states.

The woman's death in New Brunswick is the first such fatality in Atlantic Canada.


In a related regulatory matter that has also caused concern, Stephen Harper's government has decided to transfer aviation safety oversight to the airline companies themselves.

Toronto Star

Robert Gibbs said...

Stevie, what do you have to say about this CMA Journal editorial concerning the listeria outbreak?

***He said it was one author who said it, not the position of the medical association. “This author is in our opinion not someone who is credible.”***

But, but, Stevie, it says right here:

***The editorial, signed by several doctors and journal editors, states that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government has reversed much of the progress previous governments made in relation to public health.***

What gives Stevie?
Are you lying again?

Robert Gibbs said...

Hurricane Danny Churns


Thu. Sep 18 - 4:46 AM

IS THERE any doubt who the leader of the opposition is? Not in Atlantic Canada.

Danny Williams has seized the job as if there were a vacancy, and the real-life opposition leaders seem to have taken their demotion in stride.

This week, both Liberal Leader St├ęphane Dion and NDP Leader Jack Layton visited the Rock where Premier Williams reigns supreme. The former pledged allegiance of sorts to Mr. Williams by signing on to his "Anything but Conservative" (ABC) campaign, and the latter pledged tribute in the form of $10 billion from Ottawa – the price Newfoundland and Labrador has put on fixing Stephen Harper’s broken promise to remove oil revenues from the calculation of the equalization formula.

Neither Mr. Dion nor Mr. Layton had much to lose in deferring to Danny Williams’ agenda. The Liberals will likely be the greatest beneficiaries of the Progressive Conservative premier’s unprecedented decision to declare total war on his federal Conservative cousins – to the point of mobilizing (some say bullying) his provincial party machine into doing grunt work for local Grit and NDP candidates.

As for Mr. Layton, the only way he will have to come up with the king’s ransom he has promised Newfoundland – a sum roughly equivalent to the province’s entire debt – is if he is crowned prime minister on Oct. 14, which remains an unlikely prospect.

The federal Conservatives would like to dismiss the ABC campaign as the shenanigans of a perpetually disgruntled premier having a meltdown. But can this bothersome oil slick off the East Coast be contained that easily? Perhaps not.

Mr. Williams has been trying to break out of central typecasting. He doesn’t just want to play the role of petulant premier. So he has widened his focus. Instead of simply hammering away at Newfoundland and Labrador’s concerns – a strategy that has limited appeal beyond the island – Mr. Williams has elevated himself into a de facto leader of the opposition by mounting a concerted attack on Stephen Harper on all fronts.

The website Mr. Williams launched this week – – is at once a compendium of Mr. Harper’s failures to keep his word on a wide variety of issues and a vicious critique of the Harper government’s policies and priorities.

Now that it’s online – and with one poll showing 38 per cent of the electorate is prepared to vote strategically to prevent a Conservative majority – the ABC campaign still has the potential to catch on, in one form or another, beyond the confines of the Rock.

Robert Gibbs said...


Two US authors that appeared on Business News Network (BNN) on Monday, September 15, 2008, discussing their recent timely books about the US financial crisis and the ideology behind Conservative free market thinking & deregulation -

***applying equally to Harper's neo-Conservative mentality.***

Robert Kuttner
Author, Obama's Challenge-America's Economic Crisis and the Power of a Transformative Presidency

BNN-TV Clips-Video Library-Monday-SqueezePlay [09-15-08 5:00PM]
Approx Times: 30:30 to 39:00


Thomas Frank
Author, The Wrecking Crew-How Conservatives Rule

BNN-TV Clips-Video Library-Monday-SqueezePlay [09-15-08 5:00PM]
Approx Times: 39:00 to 44:40


Anonymous said...

Poll on Gerry Ritz:

Typically the result of this poll gets a mention on the radio evening news for these stations.



Robert Gibbs said...



Those things are never scientific though.