Gerry Ritz lives by a quiet lake in the northeastern corner of the riding he used to represent in the House of Commons as a Saskatchewan MP and many years as agriculture minister for Stephen Harper. After two decades of life in politics he says his honey-do list is pretty long, but he has very much enjoyed getting to some tasks that had long been put off by the demands of his office. That being said, you can tell he likes being amongst farmers and there are many that sure like being with him.
That was just the situation recently, as Gerry Ritz spoke at the Prairie Cereals Summit (PCS), at Banff, Alberta. His audience was very keen to hear his insights on current trade and industry issues.
Ritz took some time out of the summit to give a wide-ranging interview that touched on some of the topics in his presentation. He started out by encouraging farmers to speak out about their industry because urban dwellers today do not have even the modest connection to agriculture that they used to have.
“Everything is political at the end of the day. When you look at the rules and regulations that keep getting dumped on (and) the whole concept of agriculture that comes out of downtown Toronto, downtown Vancouver, and downtown Calgary for that matter, we’ve lost that connection,” he says.
According to Ritz, Canada has established a reputation for science-based decision making. “Canada’s revered around the world. (This made it easier) selling Canadian products in Japan, and in Korea and China, India, and Europe.”
Because Canada bases its farming practices and regulatory approval on science, Canadian agriculture is able to ramp up production quickly says Ritz, and our trading partners know it. “Even as we did the free trade agreements, agricultural arguments were front and centre because they did not want to see their production over-swamped by Canada’s ability that we have proven to the world that we can grow it, we can raise it,” he says.
Canada has always been a big trading country under governments of all stripes, but Ritz says that trade in agriculture was given much higher priority by the Conservative government that he was a part of. “Jean Chrétien did a few big missions to China, there was a little bit of agriculture involved in that. But it was really Stephen Harper and our trade ministers and myself that really opened it up. I mean we saw Canada’s trade in Agriculture go from some … $22 billion to just under $70 billion over a period of six years.”
Hear the entire interview with former agriculture minister Gerry Ritz below.