The Hon. Gerry Ritz served as Canada’s agriculture minister for eight years — from the summer of 2007 to the fall of 2015.
Not everybody agreed with his politics or his personality, but there’s no question Ritz had a big impact on the direction of Canadian agriculture. From ending the Canadian Wheat Board’s monopoly to modifying farm risk management programs to pushing for Canada’s participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Canada-EU trade deal, changes made while he was minister will have a long-lasting effect on Canadian farms.
Having had a couple months to digest and adjust to the federal election result on October 19th, Ritz took some time on Monday to talk with us about his time as ag minister. We discussed the highlights, challenges, the unfinished business and what he might work on in the future:
- Your overall highlight(s) from your time as ag minister?
- “Primary producers came to the conclusion that this is big business. They’re making decisions that are smart, that work into their business plan. Everyone is starting to think from that aspect…I think that was the biggest change.”
- Emphasizing value chain cooperation — “There used to be a tremendous amount of infighting…everybody started to come to grips with the idea that this is a value chain.”
- “Four out of five years, record numbers in terms of net farm income…”
- Is there one specific event that stands out?
- Ending the Canadian Wheat Board’s monopoly — “That probably was the biggest thing that I’ll look back on with pride.”
- Were you ever concerned your plans to dismantle the CWB would be derailed?
- “Not really. We knew we were on solid ground…”
- What was your toughest challenge as ag minister?
- “Some of the food safety things hit the media disproportionately to what was going on…this two-hour news cycle that we have now certainly doesn’t feed accuracy…”
- Is there unfinished business you wish you’d made a higher priority?
- “There are still some changes to the Canadian Grain Commission to make them a more user-friendly organization…
- “The things that drove me to run again were trade — the ability to formalize TPP, CETA…and rail logistics, right from farmgate to port, making sure everything is run as efficiently as possible…”
- Have you spoken to your successor, Ag Minister Lawrence MacAulay?
- “I ran into him the day he was sworn in…he said he’d be coming to me for advice. I said ‘You know what Lawrence? I’ll give that to you everyday in a thing called Question Period.’”
- Is it true you had a different suit jacket for every province?
- “I don’t think I had anything dedicated to certain provinces. You’re saying I should have worn orange when I was in Manitoba or blue in Saskatchewan?…Having said that, I did have a tremendous working arrangement with all the provinces and territories…”
- Did you find the east-west balance to be a challenge?
- “I reject the idea out of hand that somehow there was an east-west struggle…”
- What does the future hold for you? Will you write a book?
- “Everybody asks if I kept a journal with all the travels and meetings I did, but unfortunately I never did…”
- “I’m going to keep my hand in the agricultural files, there’s no doubt about it. I think there’s some work to be done with the farm organizations across Canada. There’s fragmentation where there shouldn’t be and unanimity on certain issues where there shouldn’t be. I think there’s a tremendous amount of opportunity for someone to put together a whole new complex that takes agriculture into the 21st century in a lot more stable than what we’re looking at doing now…the focus needs to be on agriculture at large, not just the little individual things. “