Op-Ed: Gerry Ritz’s record tarnishes Hall of Fame

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