To sum up the last year for Gerry Ritz, MP for Battlefords-Lloydminster, is quite easy.
“It was a fantastic year,” the agriculture minister and local MP said in a year-end interview with the Lloydminster Source.
Ritz said that 2014 was full of highlights, which included the ratification of the Canadian European Union Free Trade Agreement and the Korea Canada Free Trade agreement.
“2014 was a fantastic year for the trade file,” he said.
Ritz looked back on the last 12 months and pointed to key files that help the average Canadian taxpayer.
“From a family perspective, the Canadian government has now introduced a proactive, which will be in place for this year, a Child Tax Credit. The new income splitting rules, that will no doubt make a difference for the young families in Lloydminster and across Canada,” he said.
Looking at his file, agriculture, opening up new markets around the world was key to Canada’s growth, according to Ritz.
“There are two reasons to open the new markets, first we are a trading nation,” he said. “We are a very large geographic nation, with a wealth of resources, including agriculture, but we have a small population.
“So, we can overproduce, and all that overproduction and export production needs to find a home.”
One of the bigger stories that came out of Ottawa, in 2014, wasn’t a policy or a bill that was passed, but in October of this year a lone gunman shot and killed one solider before entering Parliament and ultimately being killed by Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers.
Ritz said that anyone who thought that Canada was immune to domestic terrorism was naive.
“This action really brought home the fact that the world is under attack from radicalized groups from different stripes,” he said.
Ritz said being able to travel internationally, he has seen heavy security around him, “we now face that reality here in Canada.”
Ritz admitted that changing the laws might not be the way to move forward to protecting the rights and freedoms of Canadians.
“We will have to update some of them certainly, but we have to focus our efforts in making Canadian’s safe,” he said.
Looking back on the year in his portfolio of the Ministry of Agriculture, Ritz said that like every year the portfolio has challenges and obstacles that one must overcome, and like in the past, the agriculture sector in the country is thriving.
“I hold a number of meetings with stakeholders across this great country. I had the opportunity to speak at the Grow Canada event, on Parliament Hill here in Ottawa, several hundred farmers came together and talked about the way forward,” he said.
“They were pleased that this government was focused on free trade and the good advancements in the Pacific Rim and the growing markets.”
The minister said that the reaction from farmers he has spoken with has been mostly positive.
One of the big issues that Ritz had to deal with on a domestic level when it came to his portfolio was the issue of grain movement and the backlog of grain from the record season in 2013.
Ritz, along with Minister of Transportation Lisa Raitt, introduced new legislation requiring rail companies to move the grain or be fined.
“As a government, we did what was required at that time and place,” he said. “If you want to look at who didn’t do enough, you would point a finger at the two major railways in the country.”
Ritz said that the companies seem to be stuck in the past on the issue of grain movement.
“They seem to think that they are the ones that dictate how many cars move and where they are placed,” he said.
“I think there is still some education that still needs to be done on the issue.” Ritz then compared the rail companies in Canada to kids in school. “As a student, the railways are going to have to stand in the corner for a little while and do a little mea culpa, and start to realize that they are just a part of the supply chain,” he said.
“They are not the supply chain, they are not the major part of the supply chain, but they are a valuable part of the supply chain.”
Looking south of the border, one of the ongoing issues with the U.S. has been the mandatory country of origin labelling (COOL) on food from other countries.
Recently, the World Trade Organization ruled against the United States and ordered them to remove any country of origin labelling.
United States Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has appealed the ruling, which didn’t come as any surprise to Ritz.
“The idea that the U.S. administration was going to appeal the decision, isn’t anything new to us, but we will continue to put pressure on them (in form of potential) retaliatory measures,” he added.
As 2014 is coming to a close, Ritz looked at the upcoming the new year.
“We will be working hard on opening up more markets for our products in Canada, and we have a pretty full agenda leading up to the 2015 general election,” he said.
Ritz said that this time next year he is expecting the Conservatives to be returned to Ottawa with another majority government.
“I expect us to be back, continuing our work on the regulatory burdens, on taxation burdens, on rebuilding infrastructure, and making sure that our oil and gas get into a pipeline to markets that are looking for it.”