Federal agriculture critic Wayne Easter, who dropped into Guelph last week, became a household name across Canada in September as the butt of a tasteless joke about listeriosis by federal agriculture minister Gerry Ritz.

To recap: when told during an internal conference call that listeriosis had claimed a victim in Prince Edward Island, Easter's home province, Ritz joked that he hoped the deceased was his political nemesis Easter.

Someone involved in the call wasn't amused with this or another remark Ritz made about equating listeriosis to "death by a thousand cold cuts." The offended party leaked it to the media, and there were calls for Ritz's resignation.

Turmoil ensued. Ritz admitted uttering the remarks and apologized to Easter and the families. But few were mollified. Scientists, union leaders, federal opposition leaders and victims' families continued to demand Ritz be fired.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper refused, even though he called the remarks "completely insensitive and unacceptable."

Ritz's saving grace, according to his boss, was that he had not intended to make the comments "publicly."

That smells. My students blog as part of their course work this semester, and Jocelyn Martin, who eyes a future in journalism, called Ritz's quip "an international embarrassment" in her Sept. 20 entry.

At the other end of the spectrum, Ottawa farm journalist Alex Binkley, writing in the Ontario Farmer newspaper Sept. 23, chastised the bureaucrat who leaked the call rather than Ritz, claiming civil servants should be neutral and trustworthy.

For his part, Easter didn't let it get to him. Nor did he capitalize on the opportunity to bring down the beleaguered Ritz. Easter did call for the minister's resignation, but says that's because he thinks the Harper government mishandled the listeriosis situation, and that Ritz is a lousy minister.

"The media wants a fight between him and me, but it's not going to get it over the slur," said Easter, when he was in town stumping for Guelph Liberal candidate Frank Valeriote.

"It will take away from the real issue, which is the fact that Ritz is not doing his job as minister. That's why I called for his resignation."

Indeed, Easter had been after Ritz's head for more than a week before the minister made the crack.

And that's what kind of a September it's been for Easter. He pushed hard to get Liberal policy-makers to make the party's Green Shift more farmer friendly.

He and his party were not prepared for a snap election, hoping to float their carbon-tax/credit program far and wide before having to test it at the polls.

When another journalist and myself met him at dinner time at Valeriote's riding office in Guelph, he'd been campaigning at 13 events in 48 hours for the Guelph riding candidate and others.

A national televised debate on agriculture was scheduled for noon the next day in Ottawa; Easter hadn't time to think about it yet. "I suppose we'll address that Monday morning," he told me.

And while his pizza got cold, he offered his take on the closed-shop mood in Ottawa these days, and how it's affecting agriculture and food.

"Canadians should be concerned about food inspection," he said. "The Canadian government was missing in action during listeriosis.

"It was Michael McCain (president and chief executive officer of Maple Leaf Foods) who took the lead on the issue, not the Canadian government."

Polls suggest that even the magnitude of that issue hasn't won the Liberals the votes they want, or need.

With election day in sight, Easter, Valeriote and the rest of the party have a lot of work ahead, locally and nationally, Thanksgiving or not.