Ritz resolved to follow through on trade deals

Gerry Ritz assessed the federal election results in his usual blunt manner.

“I think they suck,” the agriculture minister said in an interview last week after the Liberals swept to power with 184 seats and the Conservative government fell to official opposition status with 99.

But that’s democracy, he said, and now his role changes after more than eight years as the minister.

“I’m in a situation now where I push rather than pull,” he said of being in opposition rather than the government benches.

“It’s tough. You’re going 100 m.p.h. and all of a sudden you’re back to the speed limit.”

Ritz was unsure about even running in this election after spending so much time away from home as he worked to open up trade for agricultural products.

However, the desire to see some issues resolved led him to run again, and now he intends to make sure that resolution occurs.

Chief among them is ratification of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and the conclusion of the long-running dispute over the U.S. country-of-origin labelling law.

Ritz and U.S. agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack were scheduled to discuss COOL by telephone last week.

“We’ll be in a position to start to apply retaliatory tariffs in about a month’s time,” Ritz said.

The WTO was expected to release its arbitration panel decision Nov. 27, but the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association has said that is likely to be later because of translation delays.

The Liberals have generally been onside with the Conservatives’ decision to impose tariffs if the Americans don’t repeal COOL.

R-CALF USA said last week that it had written to U.S. officials, including Vilsack and president Barack Obama, suggesting the election of a new government was a good opportunity to convince Canada to stop “sabre rattling” against COOL.

R-CALF criticized Ritz for being so opposed to COOL and threatening retaliation.

However, the Liberals have promised to keep up the pressure.

“A Liberal government will follow through with an aggressive response to ensure that the United States adheres to the ruling of the WTO,” the party said in a letter to the CCA in early October.

The CCA issued a statement Oct. 22 saying the new government must deliver a strong message that Canada will follow through and block imports of American goods with prohibitive tariffs unless COOL is repealed.

Meanwhile, Ritz wouldn’t speculate on who might take over his job once the cabinet is announced Nov. 4.

Possible contenders are former National Farmers Union president and cabinet minister Wayne Easter from Prince Edward Island and agriculture critic Mark Eyking from Nova Scotia.

Ritz said a map of the election result shows “every major farming area is blue,” which leaves incoming prime minister Justin Trudeau with little to choose from to fill the portfolio.

However, the rural seats in Atlantic Canada did go Liberal, which could lead to an appointment from the region.

Regina-Wascana MP and former agriculture minister Ralph Goodale said Trudeau has a challenge, but it’s one of too much talent to choose from once he balances the cabinet based on skill set, region and gender.

“That’s a pretty good problem to have,” he said.

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