08/31/2017 10:18 EDT | Updated 08/31/2017 12:40 EDT

Conservative MP Gerry Ritz Resigning House Of Commons Seat, But Won't Say Why

He served as agriculture minister between 2007 and 2015.

Tory MP Gerry Ritz speaks during a press conference in Ottawa on May 19, 2015.
The Canadian Press
Tory MP Gerry Ritz speaks during a press conference in Ottawa on May 19, 2015.

OTTAWA — Gerry Ritz won't enter the race to lead the Saskatchewan Party, the long-serving Conservative MP said Thursday, after announcing he's leaving federal politics.

"It is out of the question," Ritz said in a telephone interview, suggesting he's finished with political office.

"After 25 years involved at the federal level, I'm not sure there's enough fire in the belly left to take on a challenge at that level."

That doesn't mean he won't be active in supporting someone in the race to replace outgoing Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, Ritz said.

The Canadian Press
After the Liberal party came into power, Ritz served as international trade critic under former interim party leader Rona Ambrose.

"I just don't see myself in that capacity."

Ritz added that he has been paying close attention to the leadership race, although he hasn't yet picked a favourite to support before the party chooses a new leader in January.

In a statement posted earlier on social media, Ritz confirmed he won't be back in the Commons when House business resumes next month.

"Today, I am announcing my intent to resign as the member of Parliament for Battlefords-Lloydminster," Ritz posted on Twitter.

"I will not be returning to my seat in the House of Commons this fall."

Ritz was first elected in 1997 and held his Saskatchewan riding for two decades, first as a Reform party member, then under the Canadian Alliance banner before it merged with the Progressive Conservatives to become the Conservative party.

Joke drew widespread condemnation

Between 2007 and 2015, he served as agriculture minister under former prime minister Stephen Harper, overseeing, among other things, the marquee Conservative promise to overhaul the Canadian Wheat Board.

It was during that time, in the midst of a 2008 outbreak of listeriosis that killed about 20 people, that the outspoken Ritz drew widespread condemnation for cracking a joke that the political damage from the issue was "like a death by a thousand cuts. Or should I say cold cuts."

He later apologized for the remark, which Harper's office had called tasteless and completely inappropriate.

Ritz said he informed Andrew Scheer of his planned retirement two weeks ago as the Conservative leader was in the midst of putting together his shadow cabinet.

Ritz, 66, spent two decades as a farmer before entering politics. He won office in the same election that saw Deepak Obhrai secure a seat for the Reform party in Calgary — Obhrai was sworn in before Ritz, because of the alphabetical list, and is technically considered the longest-serving Tory MP.

But the duo represent the last of the old Reform guard in the Commons.

After the Liberals came to power and Harper stepped down as Conservative leader, Ritz served as international trade critic under interim party leader Rona Ambrose.

In his Thursday tweet, Ritz extended thanks to his colleagues as well as his constituents.

"It has been an honour and privilege to serve the people of Battlefords-Lloydminster; I thank them for the confidence they placed in me for the past 20 years," he wrote.

Ritz also had high praise Thursday for Premier Wall's tenure in office, saying his replacement will have "some pretty big shoes to fill."

There are five declared candidates for the provincial party's leadership so far.

Party members are to select their new leader on Jan. 27 in Saskatoon.

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