Wednesday, September 17, 2008

On crisis management

While there have been plenty of comments about Gerry Ritz' mockery of listeriosis deaths under his watch (see Scott's list so far), the comments I've seen so far miss another part of the story which may say more than anything about the Cons' unfitness for office. Here's Ritz' excuse after the fact:
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."
So what's wrong with that response? Remember that Ritz was one of the MPs who Harper singled out for inclusion in his cabinet - giving him authority to make emergency orders in some circumstances precisely on the assumption that he would be capable of making responsible decisions in the face of a crisis.

Instead, even if one takes at face value that the incident was out of character for Ritz, it shows that he was completely lacking in judgment in the face of exactly the type of situation which can be expected to come with his role in cabinet.

And it only gets worse when one considers Ritz' comment about Wayne Easter. Keep in mind that the other participants in the call included representatives from the Prime Minister's office as well as assistants to Tony Clement - and there's no indication that any action at all was taken until other people on the call went public.

Which can only be taken as a tacit statement that Harper and his party don't think it's a problem for a cabinet minister to respond to a crisis by musing about the death of political opponents. And from my standpoint, that makes it downright frightening to consider what kind of action or reaction we might see from the Cons in the event of a more urgent national emergency.

All of which is to say that while Ritz' comments were indeed tasteless and inappropriate, they're also far more than that in what they say about both his reaction to the listeriosis outbreak, and his party's standard of acceptable behaviour for a cabinet minister. And whether or not Harper does anything now that the matter has gone public, the only appropriate response is to ensure that none of Ritz, Clement, Harper or their party kin is in a position of responsibility next time a crisis surfaces.

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