Harper deals major cabinet shuffle

Eight new faces | Gerry Ritz becomes longest-serving agriculture minister in three decades

Gerry Ritz was reappointed federal agriculture minister July 15 after committing to running in the 2015 election.

As well, trade minister Ed Fast kept his trade portfolio position. He will continue to lead the push for trade deals with the European Union, India, Japan and Pacific Rim countries.

They both survived a major cabinet shuffle that prime minister Stephen Harper called a “generational change in the ministry.”

However, in a shuffle that brought in new and younger MPs, the key ministers on the agriculture and trade file remained the same.

“I really do think there is benefit to continuity at this time,” Grain Growers of Canada president Stephen Vandervalk said.

“It is a time of significant agriculture files, and it is good to have a minister already up to speed.”

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture also welcomed the continuation of Ritz as minister, a job he was given almost six years ago.

“The sector has made several important advances under minister Ritz’s leadership,” said CFA president Ron Bonnett.

“I would rate him as a successful minister, although we have had some differences on some policies.”

Critics, including National Farmers Union president Terry Boehm and New Democratic Party agriculture critic Malcolm Allen, said the reappointment signaled only more of the same.

“From the agriculture side, I don’t see any significant change coming in direction or approach and that is unfortunate,” said Boehm.

“I guess I had hoped for better, for a new way of looking at things, a new style maybe, but that is not to be,” said Allen.

With at least a two-year extension in his role as agriculture minister, Ritz will become the longest-serving agriculture minister since Eugene Whelan three decades ago.

He is already the longest serving Conservative agriculture minister in more than a century.

Ritz said there is much left to be done in the aftermath of the end of the CWB monopoly last year: new rules on varietal registration, changes to the Canadian Grain Commission, development of wheat and barley commissions that will direct research dollars to the industry and continued work to help the livestock industry pull out of its recent troubles by finding market access.

“There’s never a lack of work to be done on science based trade,” he said.

Trying to battle country-of-origin labelling in the United Sates, which hurts Canadian livestock exports to the U.S., will be a priority.

“This is a solution looking for a problem,” he said. “There’s much left to be done.”

However, the “generational change” did bring new players to files that affect farmers.

Southern Ontario MP and former Toronto Port Authority chair Lisa Raitt becomes the new transport minister, responsible for implementing the new rail freight rate service legislation and overseeing its 2015 review.

Quebec Conservative MP Maxime Bernier, a free market advocate and supply management skeptic, becomes minister of state for agriculture responsible for dealing with the Quebec farm lobby, which supports supply management.

Calgary MP Michelle Rempel, at 33 the youngest Conservative MP, becomes the minister of state for western economic diversification.

And longtime popular Alberta MP Kevin Sorenson made cabinet by replacing retiring southern Alberta MP Ted Menzies as minister of state for finance.

After the swearing in, Rempel told reporters her job as western diversification minister is a dream.

“Western Canada is one of the key drivers of Canada’s economy, but what the untold story is about the western economy is that we do have diversity,” she said.

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