BTC: Hypothetically speaking - Macleans.ca
 

BTC: Hypothetically speaking


 

Would Gerry Ritz still be the Agriculture Minister if he’d been caught joking about 17 Canadians dying in a bus crash? What about if it was the deaths of 17 Canadian soldiers? Or if the deaths had simply been more centralized around a single place (a la Walkerton)? If the answer is no to any of those scenarios, what makes this situation different?

Later… What’s remarkable about this is not that it’s a controversy, but that it’s so minor, or misdirected, a controversy. And how difficult that is to reconcile with the facts.

Let’s review. Seventeen Canadians have died. A leading medical journal has cited government negligence. And the government minister leading the response has been caught joking about the situation.

That third part is actually the least significant. If you apply the first two points to any number of other scenarios, the consequences are already very different. The reaction is very different.

In this case, though, the deaths are abstract. They aren’t focused on a single event. The names of the dead have not been widely reported. The details of their demise are not known. There are no pictures to go with the story. There is no single place or town to talk about or use as a stand-in for wherever you live.

More people have died as a result of this outbreak than when Walkerton became synonymous with bacterial tragedy. But whereas Walkerton remains a sensitive matter and a mark of shame—accepted as symbolic of so much—this story had all but disappeared from the campaign until Canadian Press broke news of Ritz’s comments. The seventeenth death was confirmed just two days ago, but it was mentioned only in passing, attached to no name or personal story.

Again, apply the basic facts to any number of other situations and almost everything about this story changes. And while you can explain, as above, why that is how it is, it’s difficult to explain why that’s at all just.


 
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BTC: Hypothetically speaking

  1. Good question(s). Another way to ask them is, would he have even made jokes in any of those other scenerios? And why might his defenders find those less palatable?

  2. Or what if the victims weren’t mostly seniors? If they were prime-of-life parents with young children, would he have done the same jesting? What if there had been some deaths (at the time) in Ottawa, making it closer to home for the bureaucrats?

    If he had made distasteful jokes about dead soldiers, he would fired by now. And rightfully so.

    This should be no different.

  3. I think it would depend on exactly what was said in your other scenarios, context matters. Ritz might have resigned if these revelations had emerged when he first said them.

    But this case is selective outrage. The comments were so deplorable the people who were offended by them waited weeks before saying anything and than decided to use them as a wedge issue in order to influence an election.

  4. All sort of double standards in Canadian electoral politics — why is Bob Rae a Liberal ‘star’ despite the fact that Ontario was decimated during his time as Premier? “Hypothetically speaking” would a Tory-to-Liberal convert with a similar-to-Rae’s record of failure and incompetence be hailed as a Liberal bright light and star???? (Has to be hypothetical, given that no Tory HAS similar-to-Rae’s record of failure and incompetence…)

    Would the media downplay or ignore that record as they seem to do with Rae???

  5. hmmmm Claude. I think you’ve missed the point. People died.

    Also, the non-progressive Conservative party DOES have someone with a horrendous tarck record on the economy. Jim Flaherty.

  6. There are a few differences between Flaherty and Rae though.

    Flaherty had the province in reasonable to good economic times. Rae did not.

    Rae has admitted he took things the wrong way and, as such, presumably learned from the experience. Flaherty has not.

  7. Me thinks that the CON-verts are expecting the person who leaked Ritz’s comments to pay a bigger price than the dubious minister who said it. But the fact that the gov’t seems to be getting a free ride from the media on their secret document, their handling of the listeria outbreak, and will plod ahead if elected with more deregulation and ‘self-inspection’ lunacy, I can understand why those who witnessed this think that it’s important that the public should know about the gov’t’s real intentions.

  8. For starters…if you don’t think people died in Ontario because of Rae’s policies, just ask all those people who couldn’t and (some still can’t) get a doctor b/c Rae capped the number of doctors could produce and the number of patients doctors could see.

    Rae is shameless with no regard for the real impact he wrought on people’s lives. He should be lecturing nobody, and should be the standard of nothing except abject failure.

  9. ….meant to say “number of doctors Ontario med schools could produce…”

  10. Let’s assume for a second that the conservative bots are right and this is a diabolical public servant who held on to Gerry’s awesome humour until an election.

    Could someone explain to me how that changes – a. the severity of what he did, and b. any ramifications he should face?

  11. Ritz wasn’t joking about the people who died. He made two awkward joke about the context of the meeting he was having. If somebody said “too bad Harper wasn’t visiting” the day after a bomb blast in Kandahar, that would be comparable. Would you expect that person to resign?

  12. if you don’t think people died in Ontario because of Rae’s policies, just ask all those people who couldn’t and (some still can’t) get a doctor b/c Rae capped the number of doctors could produce and the number of patients doctors could see.

    What laughable sophistry. Good Lord, the rationalisations never cease to astound me.

    Count on the Conbots to derail each and every discussion with non sequiturs, false equivalencies and every logical fallacy known to man.

  13. If somebody said “too bad Harper wasn’t visiting” the day after a bomb blast in Kandahar, that would be comparable.

    If a federal or provincial Minister said that in a meeting – hell yes they should resign.

  14. John D.
    I rarely agree with jwl, however the fact that the people who actually heard the remarks first-hand waited several weeks to disclose them is a factor. It could suggest, that in-context at a first hand hearing, the remarks did not immediately seem that offensive.

    HOWEVER, there are many other reasons it might have taken this long. First and foremost, Presumably, everyone in that meeting has been pretty busy lately. It would be good to believe that the person was actually putting their work first, before talking to the press anonymously.

    Also, I don’t know how many times jwl has leaked sensitive information that might impact his career and a national election, but a person might be excused for taking some time to consider the implications of such action.

  15. There were about 30 people sitting on that call including scientists, who have been under a bit of a gag order.

    Plus, Ritz applauded (nationally!) the rat who fingered the CFIA whistleblower, so there’s been quite a chill. And this was one week before the election call, which we all saw coming.

    Harper seems to be more upset about this “unfortunate incident,” blaming the “bureaucrat” who “leaked” information from a “private conversation.”

  16. Well, Claude obviously doesn’t know a damn what he’s talking about.

    Besides, what’s Rae got to do with Ritz’s comments?

    Amazing, just amazing how CPC supporters to a an extreme stretch to excuse what is inexcusable.

  17. The delay in releasing the comments might have something to do with the CMAJ’s editorial which sought to focus attention on the need for reforms in our food inspection system. The CFIA union is most upset about the possibility that Canada might move to more industry involvement in monitoring. The CMAJ sympathesizes with a move towards self-monitoring. Comments from the meeting (with CFIA participation) are released coincidentally with the editorial for the CMAJ, returning the focus to the Tories and their hidden hatred of humankind.

    http://www.cmaj.ca/cgi/rapidpdf/cmaj.081459

  18. Well, at least we’re seeing some fresh and rather novel rationalisations.

  19. With due respect, but when the ratpackers start talking about this being an example of “teh Tories hatred of humankind”, they, too, have gone overboard. Let’s get some perspective here. This was a tasteless joke and he should be censored. But, really, is this or any stupid comment really a reason to fire a minister? I don’t think so regardless of the political party the minister belongs to.

    Let’s fire people for errors in public policy or failure to safeguard the public, not because they are rude or insensitive.

  20. Delay shmelay, are you folks actually saying that it is nefarious to release information for maximum impact during an election campaign? What about spending announcements then? Hmmm?

    And speaking of delay, while we’re all git up about the delay in revealing gross insensitivity, and unprofessional behaviour on the part of the minister, what about the delay in responding to the issue at hand?

    When is that happening again? Oh right, a public inquiry AFTER the election.

  21. Why do only Conservative politicians have nefarious motives? Is it really impossible to imagine that civil servants have such motivations? Do you remember the leaks against Arar from civil sservants, leaks that turned out to be totally baseless? This leak does have a basis – the Minister is not denying making the comments. But it is also true that the food inspectors union is pushing heavily the idea that the cause of the outbreak was the withdrawal of inspectors.

    The CMAJ doesn’t agree. They believe that more self-monitoring could actually improve our food system, although they also want to see the other refroms they’ve been pushing for more than five years adopted (and that’s the bigger part of the negligence they’re condemning). A civil servant is impeding this debate by leaking nonsense jokes that have completely distracted, at a minimum, the fine journalists of Macleans. If Andrew Coyne wants a union to take on, he could alwqys take a look at this one.

  22. Lets try to keep this simple.
    1- The joke was unacceptable and tasteless.
    2- Many people make tasteless and unacceptable jokes, so this is not uncommon.
    3- Regardless of how it got released this type of humour is not at all up to the standards we ought to expect froma Minister either in terms of decorum or ability to use common sense/judgement.
    4- Given the COMBINATION of serious (although debatable) questions about the handling of the outbreak by the government and the minister’s foolish comments many people will have difficult trusting the judgement and abilities of the Minister.
    5- Consequently the Minister ought to be removed or he should resign until such time as the public can reasonably have confidence in his judgement. This may be never or it may be once an inquiry has been held (IF it finds that he, his ministry or his governments policies hold no fault).
    6- I will add my own little conspiracy theory here which even I admit is a stretch at best. Could it be that Mr. Harper has chosen to keep the Minister both as a minister and as a candidate so that he can ensure the Minister does not disclose any further facts about the governments actions which may have contributed to the outbreak? An angry Ritz or at least a Ritz with nothing more to lose might be a significant problem. Loose lips…

  23. Ryan: Number 6 would also explain Harper’s continued protection of Anders. It makes you wonder what kind of skeleton Anders knows that would cause Harper to piss off most of the Calgary West riding in order to ensure Anders got the candidacy.

  24. Is it really impossible to imagine that civil servants have such motivations?

    It’s not impossible to imagine UFO’s either. It’s just a little more credible to stick to what you’ve got evidence for.

  25. Again, the exquisite irony of Ti-Guy posts:

    3:31 p.m.
    Is it really impossible to imagine that civil servants have such motivations?
    It’s not impossible to imagine UFO’s either. It’s just a little more credible to stick to what you’ve got evidence for.

    12:07 p.m. Count on the Conbots to derail each and every discussion with non sequiturs, false equivalencies and every logical fallacy known to man.

  26. Style are you suggesting Ti Guy is guilty of a non sequitur, a false equivalency or a logical fallacy? I don’t see option1 there. I guess you could argue for false equivalency (I wouldn’t) but I’d need to hear more specifics. As for logical falacies- which one? I don’t really see any. Not sure I see the irony but explain further and I suppose I could be persuaded (I like to keep an open mind ya know).

  27. Well, he’s arguing that believing that a civil servant leaked the jokes for a particular purpose is equivalent to believing in UFOs. Suggesting he thinks it’s unreasonable to use the information we have to draw a deduction about what this motive would be. Or there is no connection between the two statements.

  28. <bjwl, way upthread said:

    “But this case is selective outrage. The comments were so deplorable the people who were offended by them waited weeks before saying anything and than decided to use them as a wedge issue in order to influence an election.”

    Perhaps.

    But…..

    Given that things like the shift to self-regulation at meat processing plants is a policy shift that was made willfully and with forethought by the Harper Government, perhaps the time has also come to start unleashing a little outrage that is not nearly so selective.

    OK?

    .

  29. Style- I guess I see what you are saying but I think there is some reasonable connection to his statements. First we can’t draw a deduction about UFOs or public servents any such reasoning would be inductive not deductive. Second I think he was suggesting that since we have no idea who leaked the info we have no idea of their motives and can only speculate. This is comparable to UFOs which we have little or no direct observation of thus all our knowledge is purely speculative and consequently unreliable. In both cases we lack anything beyond guess work (possible very good guesses mind you) and thus have no real knowledge.

  30. Thanks RyanD, but this is deductive reasoning, using premises to argue to a conclusion that is no more general than the premises. I am not arguing from a specific instance that civil servants are of a particular type. I take the premise that some civil servants may have motivations other than the public interest. But then combine that premise with other direct observations to suggest a specific conclusion: it is possible that a CFIA employee leaked these jokes to protect the current working practices of the CFIA, even though the CMAJ suggests that moving toward greater industry involvement in regulation could improve public safety.

    Motives are unobservable, but we send people to prison based on conclusions about their motives. I think Ti-Guy was just making a funny about how ridiculous it is to enquire into motives – it’s like talking about UFOs! I’m not sure how far to push the motives argument, but it seems like an interesting enough way to refocus on an actual conflict between the government and a union over a policy decision that has consequences for public health. And where the union may not have the better side of the argument.

  31. Style- fair enough on your last point but unfortunately it still isn’t a deductive argument. In deductive reasoning the conclusion is a logical requirement of the premises (ex. If I am human and all humans have a heart then it is logically unavoidable that I must have a heart). This is not the case with your argument. You are using Inference to the best explanation (as far as I can tell) which is a type of inductive reasoning. You see an effect (leaked information) you see that the most likely cause is a disgruntled civil servant thus you infer that effect a was likely the result of cause b. And all of this matters very little to the debate at hand but it is interesting to me anyhow.

  32. Style, above said:

    “…even though the CMAJ suggests that moving toward greater industry involvement in regulation could improve public safety…..

    Very nicely played, indeed. Especially if one is playing a game called ‘taken out of context’.

    However, those not interested in playing games may wish instead to read the CMAJ’s entire editorial here (pdf).

    Or, at the very least, they could read the following complete and consecutive paragraphs from the editorial to get a full measure of the CMAJ’s POV regarding the changes to public health policy instituted by the government of Stephen Harper that have nothing to do with the arguments of ‘unions’.

    “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. Following the 2003 SARS epidemic and subsequent recommendations of the National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) was created and given its own minister in government — a direct line to the prime minister. But in 2006, among Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s first acts was to eliminate the PHAC minister and public health’s seat at the Cabinet table. His government also left the chief medical officer of health within the ranks of the civil service, working under the minister of health. In so doing, it left our country without a national independent voice to speak out on public health issues, including providing visible leadership during this crisis.

    And listeriosis may be the least of it. The same November 2007 Cabinet decision that handed self-inspection to the owners of meat plants did the same for operators of animal feed mills and cut back the avian influenza preparedness program. Yet bad animal feed led to the epidemic of bovine spongiform encephalitis (mad cow disease), and in an influenza pandemic tens of thousands of Canadians may die. Listeriosis pales in comparison. Overall, it would seem that, as a country, Canada is far less prepared now for epidemics than in the past.

    Alternatively, of course, folks could just read the entirely in contexttitle of the Editorial which is, “Listeriosis is the least of it.”

    .

  33. Ryan, there are both deductive and inductive inferences. But “draw a deduction about” is a lousy phrase that I am happy to replace with “infer”. Thanks for your careful editing, I look forward to seeing your published edition of my comment. Could I suggest a moleskin jacket?

  34. For you Sir only the best! Moleskin it is! Ha ha ha! I do love to edit!

  35. RossK,

    Although this editorial is harsher than the accompanying editorial I linked to, this one also notes that “self-inspection systems have worked very well in other countries”.

    It then lists out several reasons the pilot project at Maple Leaf was a disaster:
    – sampling procedure still not finalized
    – national standards remain too low (these have been too low since 1998)
    – left the Chief Medical Officer in the public service
    – cancelled the independent Public Health Minister

    So, two things that are Tory actions (not finalizing the sampling procedure and cancelling the PH Minister) and two more things that are a continuation of Liberal policy (particularly the lax standards). The editorial does not condemn self-monitoring and puts a lot of emphasis on the lousy standards. These two things interacted disastrously.