Reading Time: 2 minutes
Christopher Radojewski | Fulcrum Staff

I TOLD MYSELF I would not write about the XL Foods E. coli outbreak, but the unfolding reactions in Parliament have been too interesting to stay quiet on. Every day since the outbreak, members of Parliament (MPs) have sat in the House for question period and the interrogation of the government on the outbreak has been constant.

The questions about this outbreak have been mainly directed towards the minister of agriculture and Agri-Food, the Honourable Gerry Ritz, provided he is in the House. For a brief period he left to go out West to address problems first-hand, but the opposition was unhappy he was not there to be held accountable. The mismanagement of the outbreak, the largest in Canadian history, has prompted the opposition to call for the minister’s resignation.

To resign or not to resign, that is the question. For the Conservatives, the answer is no resignations from the cabinet, and since Harper was elected in 2006, he has kept resignations to a minimum. Despite scandals and problems, the cabinet has weathered the storms. So what does it take for a minister to resign? Let’s examine the history.

Maxime Bernier, the current minister of state for small business and tourism formerly held the role of minister of foreign affairs. His is one of the only resignations under the Harper government, brought on by his criticism of Afghan politicians, promises of foreign aid with no plan to provide it, and the leaving of classified documents at his ex-girlfriend’s house (who had connections to Hell’s Angels). Harper accepted his resignation in May 2008.

Roger Simmons was the minister of state responsible for mines under Prime Minister Trudeau for ten days in 1983. When he stepped down, he claimed it was for personal reasons, but only 21 days later he admitted to the Ottawa Citizen that the Department of National Revenue was investigating his tax returns.

The most similar case to the XL Foods crisis is known as Tunagate. In 1985, cans of spoiled tuna that had been packaged in Manitoba were allowed to stay on store shelves. CBC broke the story that the minister of fisheries and oceans, John Fraser, had approved this decision. Shorty after a recall was initiated, Fraser resigned from Prime Minister Mulroney’s cabinet. And despite all the spoiled tuna, no one got sick.

These three examples demonstrate that there is no set formula for what circumstances will bring about a minister’s resignation. It is a decision that is made at the discretion of the minister and the prime minister. Although the opposition may call for dismissal, they have no power, nor does the public.

Ritz, in this case, may be safe. But unlike Tunagate, 15 people got sick from the E. coli outbreak. Thankfully, no one died—but does it take a death for a minister to resign? I sincerely hope not.

Resignations depend on the politician in question, and they are not always negative. Even as I write this, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty’s sudden resignation continues to surprise people. There is much speculation as to whether this is a personal decision or if McGuinty trying to evade possible corruption, but only time will tell why he resigned when he did.

I think that as citizens, we can agree that we want our politicians to be honest and admit their mistakes. This may not be the most politically strategic thing to do, but it is the right thing to do if citizens are the focus.