When agriculture minister Gerry Ritz played footsie with Canada’s defamation laws by accusing the Canadian Wheat Board chair of “stealing” farmer money, it shocked some people accustomed to more genteel political language from ministers.
Of course the threat of legal action produced a sort-of retraction of the theft accusation from Ritz.
But anyone who has followed his parliamentary career since 1997 could not have been surprised.
They know he has a quick turn of phrase, sometimes witty but just as often aimed at belittling or undermining his opponent rather than dealing with their substantive points.
In recent months during the CWB debate, Winnipeg New Democrat Pat Martin has become a popular target for the minister’s putdowns. Of course, Martin can give as well as he can take with his own caustic tongue.
On Oct. 25 during a Commons exchange over Bill C-18, Martin called Ritz a “failed ostrich jockey,” a reference to the fact that Ritz once unsuccessfully tried to cash in on the ostrich boom and to the story that he was once hurled into a fence while trying to ride one of the said ostriches.
Speaker Andrew Sheer cautioned Martin about using inappropriate metaphors that agitate other MPs.
Then Ritz upped the ante considerably.
“I will say that farming ostrich allowed me the opportunity to get used to working with the lesser life forms I sometimes see here on the floor of the House of Commons,” he replied. Sheer also found that comment “unhelpful.”
But it was not out of character.
Ritz likes to mock his opposition critics because they have no or few farmers in their ridings and none in western Canada. And he sometimes puts words in their mouths.
Recently, the minister took umbrage at a visit to Regina by NDP agriculture critic Malcolm Allen during which the southwest Ontario MP met with grain farmers and denounced government tactics to end the CWB single desk.
Here is a guy from Ontario supporting a grain monopoly on the Prairies when wheat farmers in his own province have the freedom to sell their own grain, Ritz fumed.
Of course, Allen’s position is not in favour of the CWB monopoly but in favour of forcing the Conservatives to follow the same rules Ontario followed when it ended its wheat board monopoly — at the request of farmers through a vote.
Liberal critic Frank Valeriote from Guelph, Ont. had a simple answer when faced with the same no-farmer ridicule: “I may not have farmers in my riding but I know where my food comes from.”