Canada will have a new agriculture minister on Nov. 4.
In a news conference Oct. 20 prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau told reporters he would take the next two weeks to decide who would sit in his government’s inner circle.
It was the first time a prime minister had held a news conference in the National Press Theatre for seven years.
The cabinet, Trudeau said, would be strong and smaller than the current front bench, which consists of 27 full ministers and 12 ministers of state. Trudeau also committed to a cabinet comprising 50 percent women and 50 percent men.
Building a cabinet is no easy task. It’s a job that garners scrutiny from political opponents, the media and stakeholders. Geography, gender, talent, party-standing and experience are all considered in conjunction with the leader’s priorities and policy commitments.
Among those likely to be named in cabinet is longtime Saskatchewan MP Ralph Goodale — the lone Liberal representative from that province.
Goodale, who was first elected to the House of Commons in 1974, has held a number of portfolios in his lengthy political career: finance minister, natural resources minister, government house leader, minister of public works, to name a few.
He’s even served as agriculture minister, putting his name among the possible contenders to replace outgoing agriculture minister Gerry Ritz.
Yet, as notable as Trudeau’s caucus talent may be — with former MLAs, provincial ministers, community business leaders, among them — his rural caucus remains small.
This is not to say that Trudeau does not have individuals with knowledge of agriculture; he does. But Ritz has left behind big shoes to fill.
Ritz reinvigorated conversations about the role and future of Canada’s agriculture sector. While his positions, particularly around dismantling the Canadian Wheat Board, did not always earn him support, his dedication to Canada’s farmers earned him respect.
He was also a globe totter, with numerous trips around the world promoting Canadian agriculture and farmers’ products.
Ritz once joked at a committee meeting that he’d spent more time in China that year than he had at home with his family.
He engaged in more than a few battles on behalf of farmers at the cabinet table, most notably during the transportation crisis of 2013-14 that saw millions of tonnes of grain stranded across the Prairies.
And, while his quick temper and farm humour sometimes got him into trouble, no one could deny Ritz’s commitment, despite the lack of recognition it garnered from his own government.
His willingness to engage with reporters with courtesy and humour, particularly with newcomers like myself, did not go unnoticed.
More than once colleagues commented on Ritz’s availability to the farm press when so many of his cabinet colleagues were refusing interviews.
While agriculture is often overshadowed by more high-profile cabinet positions like finance, foreign affairs, justice and defence, replacing Ritz will be no easy task.
At first glance, the likely candidates based on seniority and knowledge of the file are Goodale and former National Farmers Union president Wayne Easter. Current agriculture critic Mark Eyking is likely to be named as a regional minister.
Goodale, Eyking and Easter re-peatedly took the lead on agriculture debates, notably the grain transportation crisis, for the Liberals in the last Parliament.
More than once all three men shared the party’s lone seat at the House agriculture committee.
Then there’s Denis Paradis, a former Quebec cabinet minister and one of a handful of rural MPs newly elected to Trudeau’s caucus.
Paradis’ family owns a vineyard in Brome-Missisquoi. Paradis’ brother, Pierre, is the minister of agriculture in Quebec.
Also rumoured to be on the short list is Lawrence MacAuley, a longtime Liberal MP from Prince Edward Island and former seed potato and dairy farmer.
MacAuley most recently served as the party’s fisheries and oceans critic.
But whomever Trudeau and his advisers select, Canada’s next agriculture minister will be expected to build on the legacy Ritz has left.