Ritz returns, Transport gets a new look

“Farming is the backbone of the Canadian economy and in times of global economic uncertainty this government is committed to continue putting farmers first.”

Gerry Ritz is staying on as agriculture minister in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s new cabinet. But there’s plenty of change in other key portfolios.

As was generally expected, Jim Flaherty remains finance minister. Lawrence Cannon moves to Foreign Affairs from Transport where he was replaced by John Baird, the scrappy former environment minister.

However, Baird, who represents a suburban Ottawa riding, is expected to focus on the infrastructure side of the portfolio. Rob Merrifield, a well-liked Alberta MP from Yellowhead and the new minister of state for Transport, is expected to be handling the Transport files that were whipped into good shape by Cannon during the last couple of years.

Other noteworthy changes for the farm and food industries in the new cabinet are Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, Stockwell Day to minister of international trade and for the Asia-Pacific Gateway, Jim Prentice to minister of the environment, and Saskatchewan MP Lynne Yelich to minister of state for Western Economic Diversification.

Many commentators thought Ritz would be sacked for his cold cuts comments during the height of the Maple Leaf Foods listeria outbreak. But other than the National Farmers Union, Ritz is generally well regarded by farm organizations. And dropping him for remarks made during what was supposed to be a confidential briefing would only embolden other disgruntled public servants into leaking remarks made by ministers.

Harper said his new cabinet is intended to reinforce the government. s strong economic focus “to ensure that Canada’s businesses and families have the security they need to weather any global economic storm.”

Ritz has to be on top of the WTO negotiations, the U. S. COOL measures and deliver on the government. s election promise of allowing regional flexibility in the Growing Forward program that still has to be completed by the federal and provincial governments.

Ritz said he was “honoured to continue working for farmers. This government has accomplished more for our producers over the last 2-1/2 years than the previous government did in 13, but there is still a lot of work to be done.

“Farming is the backbone of the Canadian economy and in times of global economic uncertainty this government is committed to continue putting farmers first,” he said. “Our formula is simple and it works: We listen to farmers, we work with farmers, and then we deliver the bankable, practical results farmers need. We know when the farm is strong, viable and sustainable the rest of the value chain including processors, transporters and retailers benefit.”

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture welcomed Ritz’s continuing presence. “On behalf of CFA members, I congratulate Minister Ritz on his reappointment, and look forward to meeting with him as soon as possible as we need to discuss a range of significant issues. Farm organizations value his demonstrated understanding of the sector and appreciate his recognition of our vital industry,” said Laurent Pellerin, CFA first vice-president.

CFA said it will continue to push its key issues with Ritz – a balanced international trade position and compensation to farmers “for their important role in mitigating the effects of climate change and providing ecological goods and services.” Other key issues include an ongoing funding commitment to on-farm food safety programs and initiatives to better facilitate the implementation of new Product of Canada label guidelines.

The Grain Growers of Canada and Canola Council of Canada echoed those remarks. “We believe the reinstatement of Minister Ritz shows this government is committed to moving forward on these progressive policy initiatives,” Grain Growers president Ross Ravelli said. “Producers had some clear choices this election and the fact is, the government won virtually every agricultural seat in Canada. Therefore we strongly encourage all members of Parliament to respect the democratic wishes of producers and not obstruct positive agriculture policy.”

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