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Menzies says he won’t lobby former government colleagues

New CropLife head says he will focus on dealing with other countries, farm groups and the food industry

Former cabinet minister Ted Menzies brushes off accusations that he intends to use his political connections as president and CEO of CropLife Canada to influence former colleagues.

Menzies recently resigned as MP for the southern Alberta riding of McLeod to succeed Lorne Hepworth, a former Saskatchewan agriculture minister, who retires next year. CropLife represents Canada’s manufacturers and distributors of agricultural chemicals and seed.

“The law is quite clear,” Menzies said in an interview. “I can’t lobby my former colleagues or any of the departments I was connected with for five years and I won’t.”

Any presentations to ministers or government regulators will be done by CropLife’s directors or staff. The CropLife directors represent top-level companies “that know the industry has to be promoting safe and sustainable production of food,” he said. “They understand the pressure from consumers and farmers for safer foods, environmental sustainability and better agricultural chemicals.”

Menzies plans to focus on the agri-food industry’s preoccupation with producing enough food to safely feed a global population expected to reach nine billion by 2050.

“If I can contribute, why shouldn’t I?” he said. “Would people criticize me for leaving politics if I spent the rest of my life retired in Florida or Phoenix?”

First elected in 2006, the former president of the Western Canadian Wheat Growers and the Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance served as minister of international trade and junior minister of finance in the Harper government before announcing last spring he wouldn’t run in the next federal election. He was dropped from cabinet in the summer shuffle, and said he was then approached to take on the CropLife presidency.

John Bennett of Sierra Club Canada was among the critics who said Menzies’ hiring was a brazen attempt by the pesticide industry to buy influence with the Harper cabinet.

“Because of dangerously weak federal ethics and lobbying rules, Menzies is allowed to become president and CEO of a federally regulated organization that lobbies the federal government regularly,” Bennett said in a release.

“Whether or not Mr. Menzies technically does any lobbying, his position as president and CEO of CropLife clearly opens government doors and provides valuable insight on the internal workings of the Harper government,” Bennett said. “Are we supposed to believe Mr. Menzies will lock himself in his new office and not take calls or check his email?”

Menzies said CropLife officials were well aware of the lobbying prohibition he faced when they approached him about the job.

“They understood I could carry on the leadership of the organization and deal with other countries and farm groups and the food industry. That’s what I want to do. Help the membership find ways to feed a hungry world. There are a lot of challenges out there that I can work on.”

While he may be unable to talk to federal ministers and officials, Menzies will be able to meet provincial agriculture ministers and university officials about developments in Canada. There’s no restriction on what he can do internationally. CropLife Canada is part of the federation of agriculture supply organizations operating in 91 countries and Canada has a lot to contribute in terms of technological developments, he points out.

Menzies said the emergence of new crop commissions and research organizations in Western Canada opens a whole new field for collaboration within the agri-food community. “We’re looking forward to working with the new commissions and encouraging new crop-variety research.”

The development of gluten-free wheat is just one of many possible innovations that could create new crops and possibilities for farmers, he said.

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