Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz faces more criticism amid growing XL Foods beef concerns

Gerry Ritz. Canadian Press photoIt probably hasn't been a very happy Thanksgiving long weekend for Gerry Ritz.

In the midst the largest beef recall in Canadian history, our agriculture minister is facing a growing chorus of voices asking him to resign.

According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's timeline of events, E. coli was detected at the XL Foods Inc. plant in Brooks, Alta., on Sept. 4. On Sept. 13, the company was removed from a list of establishments eligible to export to the United States. It wasn't until Sept. 27, however, that CFIA suspended XL's operating licence after determining "that adequate controls for food safety were not fully implemented in the [Brooks] facility."

According to PostMedia News, over the weekend, the number of illnesses linked to products from the XL Foods has increased to 10 people from three different provinces. While the U.S. Food Safety Inspection Service tripled its estimate of the amount of recalled XL Foods beef imported into the country.

Despite the enormity of the recall, Ritz has appeared aloof, staying away from the House of Commons for almost a week, cutting a press conference short and avoiding reporters during the long weekend.

While it's commonplace for opposition members to call for a minister's 'head,' this time even the media is piling-on.

The Hill Times' editors say that if Ritz doesn't step down, he should step-up.

"It's easy to see why there is an urge to call for Mr. Ritz to step down or be fired, but what Canadians want and need is leadership. There is no excuse for him not to have been in the House last week for three days, dodging questions and remaining silent. This is the greatest beef recall in history, and the government needs to be seen to be handling it properly."

CTV's Don Martin suggests that Ritz deserves a "vote of non-confidence."

"...For downplaying the problem during those first critical days as the beef recall reached an historic high, Ritz deserves a vote of non-confidence for failing to appear in charge at a key moment.

There is no greater responsibility than to backstop public safety. That means making sure Canadians are safe from criminals, foreign threats and danger on planes. But nothing matters more than ensuring consumer confidence in the food supply."

The Toronto Star's Tim Harper wrote an excellent column putting today's crisis in historical perspective:

"The beef scandal broke almost 27 years to the day of the most celebrated tainted food scandal to ever hit the Canadian Parliament, the tainted tuna scandal which cost Progressive Conservative Fisheries Minister John Fraser his job.

Fraser's resignation came at a different time in Canadian politics, however.

He was out of a job days after the story was broken by CBC's the fifth estate, even though, as it turns out, no one was sickened by the tuna he allowed to get to supermarket shelves.

But in that day, ministerial responsibility meant something. It was not some abstract argument from the opposition benches."

While a Ritz resignation would be the right thing, none of the learned political analysts believe that's likely to happen — especially not in a Stephen Harper government, where the likes of Peter MacKay, Christian Paradis and Bev Oda get to keep their ministerial portfolios.