Ritz’s record tar­nishes Hall of Fame

Prairie Post (East Edition) - - Opinion - BY IAN ROBSON

Prime Min­is­ter Harper said he “would make Canada un­rec­og­niz­able.” His Agri­cul­ture Min­is­ter Gerry Ritz cer­tainly did his part to make Cana­dian agri­cul­ture and food un­rec­og­niz­able. Min­is­ter Ritz’s de­struc­tive record speaks for it­self. Does Toronto’s Royal Agri­cul­tural Win­ter Fair re­ally want to dam­age its rep­u­ta­tion by in­duct­ing for­mer Agri­cul­ture Min­is­ter Gerry Ritz (2007 - 2015), into Canada's Agri­cul­ture Hall of Fame? Con­sider just a small part of Min­is­ter Ritz’s de­struc­tive legacy.

Un­der Mr. Ritz's watch over 15% of farm­ers went out of busi­ness. Farm­ers now num­ber a mere 193,000 and our col­lec­tive debt level has bal­looned to over $102 bil­lion dol­lars.

Weigh­ing both the costs and ben­e­fits is fun­da­men­tal to suc­cess­ful farm­ing and pub­lic pol­icy, but Min­is­ter Ritz failed to do this dur­ing his ten­ure. He is re­spon­si­ble for dis­man­tling the farmer-di­rected Cana­dian Wheat Board sin­gle desk mar­ket­ing agency. He must have known the CWB had strong sup­port since he re­fused to give farm­ers a vote. He ig­nored hard facts and the his­tory of how well the CWB served farm­ers and Canada as whole. De­stroy­ing the CWB con­tin­ues to cost farm­ers bil­lions of dol­lars ev­ery year

Min­is­ter Ritz then took the many hard as­sets of the Cana­dian Wheat Board in­clud­ing thou­sands of grain cars, of­fice build­ings, grain ships, and a sub­stan­tial amount of cash, and trans­ferred them all to a joint ven­ture be­tween the Gov­ern­ment of Saudi Ara­bia and the giant multi­na­tional Bunge un­der so-far se­cret terms. All of those mil­lions of dol­lars of as­sets were paid for by farm­ers, yet Min­is­ter Ritz still spent mil­lions to shut down the CWB, in­clud­ing tax dol­lars. Farm­ers are still in court seek­ing resti­tu­tion for their money and as­sets. The tax pay­ers of Canada may never re­ceive a proper ac­count­ing.

Al­most im­me­di­ately af­ter Gerry Ritz killed the CWB, our premium cus­tomers started to com­plain of qual­ity and de­liv­ery prob­lems. Prairie wheat, which once con­sis­tently traded at a premium to US wheat, now sells for much less. Lower grain prices and poor re­la­tions with end-use buy­ers have be­come the norm be­cause pri­vate el­e­va­tor com­pa­nies can­not match the CWB’s mar­ket­ing so­phis­ti­ca­tion. Since 2012, farm­ers have lost an in­creas­ing share of our grain’s value to the el­e­va­tor com­pa­nies. The com­pa­nies are us­ing this ex­tra money to pay for merg­ers and the over­build­ing of han­dling fa­cil­i­ties.

Thanks to Min­is­ter Ritz the Port of Churchill and the rail line serv­ing it was ren­dered un­eco­nomic -- and Ot­tawa is now spend­ing tax dol­lars to pick up the pieces.

Gerry Ritz is also re­spon­si­ble for bring­ing in UPOV ’91 In­tel­lec­tual Prop­erty Rights leg­is­la­tion, which in­creased the price of seed and laid the ground­work to al­low multi­na­tional seed com­pa­nies to charge roy­al­ties on our har­vested crops. Ritz ac­cel­er­ated the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment’s cuts to crop re­search sta­tions and plant breed­ing, turn­ing them and the rights to pub­lic re­search re­sults over to agribusi­ness. These ac­tions shift yet more costs onto al­ready cash-pressed farm­ers.

In­put sup­pli­ers and com­mod­ity buy­ers were the win­ners un­der Min­is­ter Ritz's agenda, while farmer num­bers and their eco­nomic vi­a­bil­ity went down. How is this good for the fu­ture? Un­der Gerry Ritz’s watch Canada’s meat in­spec­tion reg­u­la­tions were weak­ened, lead­ing to 22 deaths from lis­te­ria poi­son­ing. Ritz did not take this tragic event se­ri­ously, in­stead he made fun of the sit­u­a­tion, jok­ing about the deaths and even de­grad­ing pub­lic di­a­logue by sug­gest­ing he wished the PEI res­i­dent who died was Lib­eral MP Wayne Easter.

Min­is­ter Ritz at­tacked farmer liveli­hoods and ham­pered Canada’s abil­ity to fight cli­mate change when he cut the PFRA Com­mu­nity Pas­tures pro­gram in spite of its decades-long suc­cess in soil re­search, pro­vid­ing shel­ter­belt trees, wa­ter man­age­ment knowl­edge, and nat­u­ral grass­lands preser­va­tion.

Let's not for­get that Min­is­ter Ritz changed the Ag Sta­bil­ity and Ag In­vest farm safety net pro­grams mak­ing them much less use­ful to farm­ers.

The ma­jor con­ces­sions he made in the Trans Pa­cific Part­ner­ship trade agree­ment demon­strate he had lit­tle re­spect or un­der­stand­ing of how our sup­ply man­age­ment sys­tem ben­e­fits farm­ers, pro­ces­sors and con­sumers. Min­is­ter Ritz in­her­ited a sys­tem where al­most all the dairy, eggs, and poul­try were from Cana­dian farm­ers and when he left sup­ply man­age­ment was very much weak­ened.

The Cana­dian Agri­cul­ture Hall of Fame does not have the pres­tige of a No­bel Prize, but it should seek to do much bet­ter. Per­haps a “Hall of In­famy” award would be a bet­ter fit for Gerry Ritz in recog­ni­tion of the dam­age he has done to Cana­dian agri­cul­ture and Cana­dian farm­ers.

Ian Robson is Na­tional Farm­ers Union board mem­ber and op­er­ates a mixed farm with his fam­ily at De­leau, Man­i­toba.

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