Harper defends minister

Prime Minister Stephen Harper stood unapologetic Tuesday, defended his embattled natural resources minister and dismissed the storm of opposition and public criticism of Lisa Raitt as “cheap politics.”

Prime Minister Stephen Harper responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa Tuesday.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa Tuesday.

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Stephen Harper stood unapologetic Tuesday, defended his embattled natural resources minister and dismissed the storm of opposition and public criticism of Lisa Raitt as “cheap politics.”

The opposition parties attacked the Conservatives in the Commons with demands for Raitt’s resignation over her description in a taped private conversation of the shortage of isotopes used in cancer tests as a “sexy” issue from which she could benefit politically.

“This minister has been working around the clock to make sure we get a greater supply of isotopes and make sure we have alternative options for our health-care patients in this country,” Harper said.

Raitt, whose brother died of cancer at age 36, said she empathizes with the plight of cancer patients and their families who struggle to support loved ones, but offered no apology for her remarks made to an aide in January. The comments were inadvertently caught on tape.

She even joined the political counter-attack saying when it comes to the isotope crisis “the only people interested in political opportunism is the opposition.”

The absence of any clear remorse outraged Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, who fired back: “The cheapest politics there is is to call a crisis a career opportunity.”

Cancer survivors and their supporters said they were astounded Raitt would describe anything to do with cancer tests as “sexy.”

They were demanding she either resign or be fired for making what they described as a cold, selfish, political calculation that involves people who are suffering.

“How could she?” asked Geraldine Owen, 67, of Moncton, N.B., who daughter-in-law has just entered a breast-cancer treatment.

Regardless of whether it was a private conversation, Owen said it’s clear Raitt was putting her “own power and ego above her compassion and humanity.”