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Ritz keeps agriculture portfolio

Gerry Ritz is among those in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet who won’t need to call the movers.

Ritz, a farming MP from western Saskatchewan, remained in the agriculture and agri-food portfolio and kept responsibility for the Canadian Wheat Board in Harper’s cabinet shuffle Thursday after the Oct. 14 federal election.

Ritz will also sit on the cabinet committee on operations, which involves the day-to-day co-ordination of the government’s agenda, such as legislation, communications and “issues management.”

As well, he was named to the cabinet committee on economic growth and long-term prosperity, which considers “sectoral” issues such as in agriculture, resources, trade and transport as well as “longer-term” matters relating to economic growth and prosperity.

Harper’s decision to keep Ritz in the ag and CWB portfolios was hailed immediately by the Grain Growers of Canada. “Over the last term of Parliament, (Ritz) has proven himself to be a strong advocate for the wishes of business-orientated, grassroots farmers,” GGC president and B.C. farmer Ross Ravelli said in a release Thursday.

The GGC, the first out of the blocks to react to Ritz’s return, said the minister needs to continue moving forward on issues such as “marketing choice” for Prairie wheat and barley, an “aggressive” agreement at the World Trade Organization, “innovation” in the seed sector and the completion of the level-of-service review in rail transportation.

“We look forward to meeting with (RItz) as soon as possible to continue the dialogue we’ve had over the last two years to put in place a long-term vision of a strong, sustainable Canadian dairy market from farmers to consumers,” Dairy Farmers of Canada president Jacques Laforge said in a separate release Friday.

Manitoba’s Keystone Agricultural Producers, in a separate statement Friday, said it hopes Ritz “will take advantage of the experience and expertise of farm organizations through in-depth consultation as he deals with key issues such as implementing agri-flexibility to target regional and provincial needs, working to address rising input costs, responding to the issues surrounding food safety, and working on the details of the new Growing Forward framework.”

Ag-related ministries

Among other cabinet appointments of interest to farmers is that of Quebec MP Jean-Pierre Blackburn, who until now was Harper’s labour minister, and is now minister of state for agriculture on top of new duties as national revenue minister.

Stockwell Day, a B.C. MP and former Canadian Alliance leader who until this month’s election was Harper’s minister for public safety, was shuffled Thursday to the international trade and Asia-Pacific Gateway portfolios.

DFC’s Laforge said Friday that his group also hopes to meet with Day and Blackburn in coming weeks “to discuss issues related to the dairy industry, including bilateral and multilateral trade talks. DFC continues to support the Canadian position at the World Trade Organization as (WTO talks) remain important for dairy farmers.”

Quebec MP and previous transport minister Lawrence Cannon has been shuffled over to the foreign affairs ministry. Ontario MP and former broadcaster Peter Kent was named as minister of state for foreign affairs, with focus on the Americas, reporting to Cannon.

Calgary MP Jim Prentice, who since August last year had been Harper’s industry minister, has been shuffled to the environment ministry, putting him in charge of greenhouse gas reduction initiatives and forward movement on a national carbon offset trading system.

In the environment file, Prentice replaces Ottawa-area MP John Baird, who in turn replaces Cannon as transport minister and becomes responsible for any federal government action on rail service for farmers and other shippers.

Lynne Yelich, a farmer from Kenaston, Sask., MP for the central Saskatchewan riding of Blackstrap and, previously, Parliamentary secretary to the minister of human resources and social development, was named Thursday as minister of state for western economic diversification.

And Quebec MP Christian Paradis, who was previously the secretary of state for agriculture and was also named minister of public works and government services in June this year, remains in the public works portfolio.

Farmer contingent

Other farmers or former farmers joining Ritz and Yelich in cabinet include northern B.C. MP Jay Hill as government house leader. Hill, previously Harper’s chief government whip, is a former president of the B.C. Grain Producers Association and director with Soil Conservation Canada and the B.C. Federation of Agriculture.

Calgary MP, grain farmer, teacher and lawyer Diane Ablonczy, formerly secretary of state for small business and tourism, has been re-titled as minister of state for small business and tourism.

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