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Lawrence Martin
Lawrence Martin

Lawrence Martin

Raitt's apology was too long in the making Add to ...

Well, there you have it, the why-did-it-take-so-long apology of Lisa Raitt. Her act of contrition yesterday for calling the isotope shortage issue "sexy" certainly looked heartfelt. But it would have been far more convincing had she done it when the news first broke.

The day before, when pressed on the matter in the House of Commons, Ms. Raitt showed no sign of remorse, refusing to apologize for what she said on the audio tape.

Why the change? Two words. Public outrage. You could see the disgusted reaction of Canadians in hundreds of online media posts. The numbers were running strongly against the government.

That being the case, you can bet that the Prime Minister's Office instructed Ms. Raitt to get out before the microphones yesterday. You can bet that the day before, the same operatives had instructed her not to give an inch. That was when they thought they could ride out the storm.

But they blew it. The Prime Minister should have stood up in the Commons on Tuesday and said that his minister had chosen some ill-advised words, as we all do, in a private conversation and that she regrets the mistake. That, in combination with Ms. Raitt's apology the same day, would have sufficed.

The issue, as it has been since Day 1 with this government, is one of character. Nothing matters except the political calculus. This time, they got caught because you can't be seen to be mixing political calculus with the treatment of cancer patients.

Ms. Raitt's indiscretions are not a firing offence. There's been too much tabloid journalism on this case, as there was in the totally overblown controversy of Ruby Dhalla's alleged treatment of nannies. As for the so-called secret documents that Ms. Raitt's aide left behind, they were hardly sensitive. As for Ms. Raitt's ill-advised choice of words in a private conversation, what politician, as her defenders point out, has not done that?

The latter rationale is one that permeates the Ottawa mentality. As in, this kind of crass calculation happens all the time in politics. Therefore, it's excusable. Therefore, let's move on. It's as if we shouldn't be in the pursuit of higher standards - as if the wrongs of past make it just fine today.

In the Commons yesterday, Ms. Raitt did what almost every Conservative cabinet minister does on every matter of controversy. She blamed it on the opposition party. She said the roots of the medical isotopes shortage of today go back to Liberal mismanagement in the past.

This brought Ralph Goodale, a former natural resources minister, to his feet. "There's been two isotope crises under the Conservatives," he hollered. "No isotope crises under the Liberals."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper wasn't in the House yesterday, but the day before he accused the Liberals of engaging in cheap politics. Were it not for his own track record on political methodology, the charge might have had some credibility.

Ms. Raitt said on the tape, made in January, that the isotope issue was only about money and money could fix it and political points could be scored in the process. But it's about far more than money and far more than political gamesmanship.

The isotope shortage has become critical. Just one example that was reported yesterday reveals that it is forcing one Ottawa hospital to reduce diagnostic tests on patients who have cancer and heart disease by 70 per cent this weekend. About 100 patients will be affected. Ms. Raitt is faced with charges of mismanagement of the file, not just from opposition members but reputed medical authorities.

Ms. Raitt is the former head of the Toronto Port Authority. The NDP is calling on the Auditor-General to examine huge travel and hospitality expenses she ran up in that job, and also to look at the role of Transport Minister John Baird in making appointments to her board.

Mr. Baird has just apologized, too - for telling Toronto to f-off for complaining about lack of federal infrastructure spending. That episode was good for a laugh and will probably ring up votes for the Tories in every city outside Metro.

Mr. Baird apologized right away. Ms. Raitt's tears came two days too late. Mr. Baird's mistake was a choice of words. Ms. Raitt's problem goes beyond that. It's one of competence.

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