Improving Canada’s safety net programs are among reappointed federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz’s top priorities, he said in an interview Oct. 31.
Removing the Canadian Wheat Board’s (CWB) single-desk marketing authority and creating an open market for barley is too. But Ritz acknowledged the change, which requires legislation, will take finesse since the Conservatives still don’t hold a majority of the seats in the House of Commons.
“We’ll assess that on a day-by-day basis,” Ritz said, adding that the opposition has said it won’t compromise on the wheat board issue.
“So we’ll wait and assess the time and the place and you can be assured just as soon as we can we’ll move to have barley marketing freedom for Western Canada farmers.”
“We’re already getting squeaking noises from the Liberals that they’re going to be tough this time… but at the end of the day I don’t think anybody wants another election in the spring.”
Opposition parties might be more supportive if a majority of farmer-elected CWB directors supported an open market. Currently only two of the 10 are open market advocates, but elections are underway now in five even-numbered districts.
“I’m getting inside information the board is willing to move on this, they just need to save face so they can back up and not look like they lost,” Ritz told one radio interviewer.
That’s news to CWB chair Larry Hill. In an interview November 3 he said the board of directors’ position has not changed; it wants to keep single-desk selling for barley and sees its new CashPlus program as a way to give farmers more pricing options for malting barley without undermining the single desk.
Ritz said farmers in Western Canada elected Conservative MPs in part because of the party’s stand on the CWB.
“Was it (federal election) another plebiscite (on CWB marketing)? I guess in a way it was,” Ritz said.
As for safety nets, Ritz said the goal is to make them bankable.
“That’s how we measure our success as to whether or not producers can actually make use of them,” he said.
Ritz said he was pleased with the strong support the Conservatives received from farmers during the election. Farmers appreciated what the government did during its first term in office, he said. According to one poll, 58 per cent of Canada’s farmers voted Conservative, Ritz said.
“It’s all very gratifying,” he said. “I’m grateful to be back in this chair with the support of the farmers.”
The new government will outline its priorities in a throne speech Nov. 18 or 19, Ritz said. That will be followed by a budget, in which details will be announced on such plans as the promised two-cent-a litre cut in the excise tax on diesel fuel. Before the government starts to implement its agenda, the House of Commons will have to pass the throne speech and the budget.
“We’re already getting squeaking noises from the Liberals that they’re going to be tough this time – not sit on their hands any longer – but at the end of the day I don’t think anybody wants another election in the spring,” Ritz said.