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.