Ritz in hot water over wisecracks during listeria outbreak
By Steve Rennie, THE CANADIAN PRESS
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.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Posted by Fillibluster at 8:20 AM