Gerry Ritz, PC, MP (born August 19, 1951) is Canada's Agriculture minister and a Canadian Member of Parliament for Battlefords—Lloydminster, a largely rural riding in Saskatchewan. Born in Delisle, Saskatchewan, he was elected as the Reform Party candidate in the 1997 general election, and then re-elected with the Canadian Alliance in the 2000 election and the Conservative Party of Canada in the 2004 election. Ritz has been the vice-chair of the House of Commons Agriculture Committee since 2002. He was appointed Secretary of State for small business and tourism in the Harper government on January 4, 2007. On August 14, 2007, Ritz was promoted to the Cabinet as Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food replacing Chuck Strahl.
Prior to his political career, Ritz worked as a farmer at the family farm for over 20 years and owned a contracting business company.
Canadian Wheat Board and barley marketing
Since before he was appointed as Agriculture Minister, Ritz has campaigned to allow farmers to sell their barley in the open market, rather than exclusively through the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB). Many farmers who want to seek the highest possible price oppose the monopsony of the board, while others believe that eliminating the board would ultimately have the effect of driving crop prices downward because of increased competition between individual farmers and by competition between marketing companies as was proven by the loss of the Australian Wheat Board in Australia in 2009-2010.The previous Agriculture Minister, Chuck Strahl, had also proposed ending the monopsony.
Food safety and the 2008 Canadian listeriosis outbreak
Ritz made national news when insensitive jokes he made on August 30, 2008, in response to the 2008 Canadian listeriosis outbreak, were made public. Ritz was quoted as saying, "This is like a death by a thousand cuts. Or should I say cold cuts." Then when told of a death in Prince Edward Island, Ritz said, "Please tell me it's (Liberal MP) Wayne Easter." Ritz later apologized for his comments and Prime Minister Stephen Harper kept Ritz in Cabinet after the 2008 Canadian general election.
At the time of the listeriosis outbreak, Harper announced that an independent investigation would be conducted in order to identify and fix any shortfalls that might come. Ritz expressed this measure in daily updates to the media and public during the outbreak. The Canadian government had previously added $113 million in the 2008 budget for a food safety program.
April 4, 2012