Regardless of who's to blame for the tainted meat tragedy, the prospect of a mounting death toll in the midst of an election campaign is bound to hurt Stephen Harper's Conservatives, a pollster predicts.
Indeed, Nik Nanos said the prime minister might want to reconsider his apparent plan to pull the plug on his government next week.
"I think the Conservatives are facing enough risks in this campaign because basically (Harper's) putting his government on the line with no guarantee of success," Nanos said in an interview.
With the death toll from Listeria linked to contaminated meat products likely to continue mounting, Nanos said the public health crisis has injected into the campaign "a wild card that's not likely to play in his favour."
Just as the income trust investigation reinforced a pre-existing perception in 2006 that the Liberals were corrupt, Nanos said the listeriosis tragedy could reinforce a perception that the Tories' belief in a more hands-off government is putting the lives of Canadians at risk.
"What's occurred could lead to a broader discussion on government's role in these kind of things and it's pretty clear that the Harper government has more of a laissez-faire, self-regulatory view on a lot of these issues," he said.
"So it could leave the Conservatives vulnerable if a narrative emerges that this is an example (of what happens) when you don't have actual government inspectors and you can't rely on an industry to police itself."
Nanos said the listeriosis outbreak could be particularly damaging for the Tories in Ontario, where voters still remember the tainted water tragedy in Walkerton eight years ago.
A judicial inquiry concluded that provincial government cutbacks and a policy of privatizing water testing contributed to the Walkerton debacle, in which seven people died and more than 2,300 fell ill.