Canada’s feisty former Minister of Agriculture, Gerry Ritz, has retired.
Ritz, 66, who was first elected as an MP in 1997 (CON-Battlefords-Lloydminster, Sask.) was the Conservative ag minister from 2007 to 2015 under Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He was an early supporter of Andrew Scheer, who became the new Conservative Party leader earlier this year.
Ritz spent 20 years as a farmer before spending 25 in politics. He had a rocky relationship with some in farming. He was mistrusted by the supply management marketing boards more than their grassroots farmers in part because the marketing boards had close relationships with the Liberal Party. He was still mistrusted, even when he repeated his support for supply management as trade critic.
Ritz will be most remembered for taking on the fight that no one thought he could win. He dismantled the single desk buyer Canadian Wheat Board in 2012, opening up farmers to more choices to market their crop. It was the right move and he was hammered for it by his detractors.
The National Farmers Union didn’t like him and Ritz even fought with the canola council on a matter of principle.
He was quick to support Ontario grain farmers by stating that the Ontario neonicotinoid -treated seed ban was not based on science.
Real Agriculture Alberta commentator Shaun Haney said Ritz loved the verbal sparring, was a man of candour and connected with his ag base in a special way.
“With Gerry, what you saw is what you got,” Haney said. “We beg for politicians who are real and when we get them we say they are not diplomatic, they’re not polished, they are renegade, they’re a loose cannon. And really I think Ritz’s quick wit is what made him special.”
Ritz saw his greatest accomplishment in foreign trade and strengthening Canada’s food supply by opening many new trade corridors.
Ritz said he has had enough of politics and has no plans. Summing up his time in office, he told the Manitoba Co-operator: “I certainly will look anybody in the eye and say the greater good prevailed.”