Speculation swirls: Will Gerry Ritz stay in cabinet or decide to go?

At the mid-point of his majority government,with the administration mired in Senate scandal and looking tired, prime minister Stephen Harper will use the summer break to try to reboot.

He will close down the first session of the 41st Parliament, launching a new session in September with a throne speech and a new agenda designed to guide the Conservative Party into the October 2015 election.

He also will try to put a new face on a government that has been in power for more than seven years with many of the same ministers.

So a cabinet shuffle is in the offing, moving out some of the old stalwarts (public safety minister Vic Toews, likely, perhaps justice minister Rob Nicholson and a few others) to make room for some of the younger, more fresh-faced MPs who have proven themselves loyal, competent and articulate.

First, though, Harper almost certainly will have one-on-one meetings with his current cabinet ministers to find out if they plan to run again in 2015.

If they plan to retire, they will be prime targets to be dropped, not because of their past performance but because it will allow a fresh face onto the front bench.

Political Ottawa is filled with all the ‘when and who’ questions.

Which brings us to agriculture minister Gerry Ritz. Will he or won’t he?

With agriculture being such a low profile file in the capital, his name does not make up much of the speculation.

But among farm lobbyists and farm movement leaders, it is one of the topics-du-jour.

“There is lots of speculation,” a prairie farm lobby insider says. “Lots of people are talking about it and guessing. I’d say from my contacts, it is a 50-50 split on whether he stays or not.”

To be clear, there is no reason to speculate that Ritz would get fired. He has been a successful agriculture minister implementing and defending much of Harper’s agricultural agenda (Canadian Wheat Board, Canadian Grain Commission, reducing farm supports) and generally staying out of trouble with a few notable exceptions.

This August if he still is in the office, he will mark his sixth anniversary, one of the longest-serving agriculture ministers ever and the longest-serving Conservative minister in more than a century.

So why would he tell Harper this is his last term?

Ritz has been in Parliament since 1997, turns 62 this summer, would be 64 in the next election and 68 by the end of the next term.

Maybe, with a rich MP pension not going to get any better, he’d like some years to do something else or relax.

As well, he really has accomplished much of the Conservative agriculture agenda in six years. What’s to look forward to?

And as minister he already has visited most of the world.

So why would he want to stay?

Ritz seems to be enjoying himself. Maybe the Conservatives after their June policy conference in Calgary will develop a new creative agriculture policy for the next six years that would entice him to stay.

Or maybe the idea of getting out of the political hothouse doesn’t appeal. Maybe he wants a new challenge and a different portfolio.

Given his performance for Harper, my guess is it will be his choice. Will he stay or will he go?

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