Colleagues praise Gerry Ritz for dedication

Former agriculture minister proud of getting all sectors in the supply chain ‘rowing in the same direction’

Gerry Ritz knows most people will point to the end of the Canadian Wheat Board as his legacy.

But the Battlefords-Lloydminster MP who was federal agriculture minister under Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper from 2007 to 2015 said he’s actually most proud of something else.

“In my mind, it was the rapport developed with industry leaders writ large across Canada,” he said during an interview after announcing he would not return to the House of Commons this fall.

“(It was) the value chain roundtables that we set up that also became the vehicles to fund the results-driven articles that those industry leaders put forward. We expedited a lot of programming simply because it was (what) industry was asking for, not what government wanted to do.

“To me, that’s what I’m most proud of. The rancour and fighting and so on that went on between a lot of the different supply line pieces ended when they all started rowing the same direction.”

Ritz was first elected under the Reform party banner in 1997 and re-elected as a Canadian Alliance candidate in 2000 before winning the next five elections as a Conservative. As minister, he led numerous trade missions to open and expand international markets. He fought against the United States’ move to mandatory country-of-origin labelling for meat and, yes, he did end the CWB single-desk for wheat exports.

Farmers, industry leaders and fellow politicians used social media last week to thank Ritz for his efforts.

Saskatchewan Conservative caucus chair Randy Hoback said Ritz was a strong mentor to new MPs, always asked for and provided advice on all files and continued to have regional input despite his busy ministerial portfolio.

He said he will miss the insight and knowledge Ritz brought to the trade file in particular.

“I think he has something like two million Air Miles,” Hoback quipped in an interview, referring to Ritz’s extensive travel.

David Anderson, Conservative MP in Cypress Hills-Grasslands, said Ritz’s success as minister has changed Canadian agriculture for the better.

Provincial agriculture minister Lyle Stewart said he respected Ritz for his time and effort in political life.

“Sometimes it can be a thankless job,” he said. “I have seen his dedication on tackling some of the hardest issues that have hit the agriculture industry and communicating a strong voice internationally for our interests, some of which included trade and implications of COOL.”

Ritz, 66, said it was time to move on and make family his priority.

“We’re half-way through a session so there’s lots of time for someone to run in a byelection here, get their feet on the ground, get ready for a major election in 2019,” he said.

He added he supported fellow Saskatchewan MP Andrew Scheer in his Conservative leadership bid and it’s time for him and a team of younger people to take over.

Ritz put to rest any rumour that he would seek the Saskatchewan Party leadership.

“My wife says she has a honey-do list that will take me three years if I really get at it,” he said.

But he also said he will likely focus future efforts on agriculture and trade.

He said he is frustrated the trade file is still in flux and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, even without the U.S., isn’t moving ahead quicker.

“That’s one thing I regret not getting done, done,” he said, repeating “done” for emphasis.

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