Should Gerry Ritz resign?

Opposition says yes NDP ag critic says new person needed to restore public trust in food safety

The Conservative majority in the House of Commons votes this week to endorse the actions of agriculture minister Gerry Ritz in his handling of the XL Foods tainted beef recall.

The Oct. 23 vote, followed by a vote to send government food safety legislation S-11 to the Commons agriculture committee, was expected to split on partisan lines but support Ritz.

The S-11 vote, cleared on second reading through the Commons Oct. 22, was expected to have all party support to get the bill into committee for public hearings and some proposed opposition amendments.

New Democrat agriculture critic Malcolm Allen used an opposition day Oct. 18 to call for Ritz to resign and to be replaced by a new minister “who can restore public trust” in food safety.

He accused Ritz of dropping the communications ball in the XL debacle and of cutting funding for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Allen also called for a CFIA resources audit by the auditor general to figure out if the agency has enough staff and to create a benchmark against which future staffing levels can be measured.

The motion was debated throughout the day with opposition MPs denouncing Ritz and the CFIA for their slow response to the XL Foods E. coli contamination that saw shipments to the United States stopped days before products from the XL Brooks, Alta. plant were stopped from being shipped to Canadian store shelves.

At least 16 Canadians have become ill from E. coli linked to the XL plant.

“Where we believe he failed in the system was not ensuring the Canadian public was treated in the same manner as we would treat anyone else,” Allen told the Commons.

Government speakers during the debate and in question period insisted that the Canadian food safety system is robust.

On Oct. 17, prime minister Stephen Harper defended the food inspection system without singling out the minister’s role. He said food safety is not a political issue.

“It is the CFIA that makes these decisions based on science, not on political decisions,” he said.

In the Commons, Ritz defended the CFIA as well as government decisions to increase funding and the role of the agency in the XL affair.

He accused opposition MPs of “fear-mongering” about food safety cuts that have not happened.

The XL beef recall, the largest in Canadian history, shows the food safety system is working, he said. “When a food recall gets underway, the CFIA literally works around the clock to get the products off the shelf as fast and comprehensively as it can.”

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