Gerry Ritz says if reappointed agriculture minister in Stephen Harper’s new majority Conservative government he’ll continue to push to open markets around the world for Canadian farmers.
“We’re also expanding the Market Access Secretariat,” Ritz said in an interview May 3. “We’re going to put actual agricultural people in consuls around the world where we have burgeoning markets so they’re there on the ground talking about the ins and outs of buying from Canada.”
By increasing farm exports Canadian farmers can earn most of their money from the marketplace instead of the mailbox, he added.
The Conservative’s election platform includes promises to increase support for the Agriculture and Food Trade Commissioner Service and the Market Access Secretariat.
Ritz, who has travelled extensively on trade missions, said having a majority government will make it easier to schedule future trips.
“I’ve been averaging about two or three nights at home, travelling every break week to those marketplaces and we’ve seen some great results so we’ll continue to do that should I stay in this chair,” he said. “But now we won’t be forced to do it during break weeks, so I’ll get more time in my own riding and my own bed and I look forward to that.”
A majority government also means more demands from people anxious for certain policies to be implemented in a hurry.
“There needs to be a large game plan – a big picture,” Ritz said.
The Conservative platform also promised to speed up the approval of new innovative pesticides, fertilizers and veterinary drugs.
“We want to harmonize a lot more on the science so we don’t start at zero when we bring a product in,” he said.
“That will lower the costs and speed up the whole system.”
However, there would still be Canadian oversight. “There has to be,” he added. “We want it to fit our parameters, but there’s a better way of doing it.”
The Conservative platform also reaffirmed the party’s commitment to supply management. But Alex Atamanenko and Wayne Easter, the NDP and Liberal agriculture critics in the last Parliament, aren’t so sure.
“We’re all worried that now that these guys have a majority that they may not support supply management,” Atamanenko, the re-elected MP for B.C. Southern Interior said in an interview last week.
“Because the Quebec contingent of the Harper government is now quite small, I would say supply management is at risk,” Easter, the re-elected MP for Malpeque in Prince Edward Island said.
The government could undermine supply management by not defending it hard enough during the World Trade Organization or Canada- European Trade Agreement negotiations, Atamanenko said.
Supply management, seen by economists as a protectionist measure, is inconsistent with the Conservative party’s free market philosophy.
Both MPs said they’re dismayed by the Harper government’s plan to end the Canadian Wheat Board’s single-desk marketing powers. They say farmers, not the government should decide the CWB’s mandate.
“I don’t know what we can do about that to be honest with you,” Atamanenko said. “These guys are going to railroad through what they want to do and we’re not going to be able to stop it.”
The NDP, as the official opposition, will have more members on the House of Commons standing agriculture committee, Atamanenko said. Devising a national food strategy will be an NDP priority, he added.
That’s also part of the Conservative platform and a policy the Canadian Federation of Agriculture has promoted.
Atamanenko said he hopes to return as the NDP’s agriculture critic and sit on the agriculture committee. He also wants Easter and Andre Bellavance, the re-elected Bloc Quebecois agriculture critic and MP for Richmond-Arthabaska, to be there.
Easter said it’s unlikely he’ll be back.
“I don’t want to sit on the committee and see everything we fought for our whole life decimated,” he said.
“I see Stephen Harper as a destroyer, not a builder.”
Some Liberals are urging Easter to be the battered party’s interim leader. He all but ruled that out, saying an interim leader should be bilingual. [email protected]