First female ag minister won’t seek re-election

Manitoba’s deputy premier and finance minister Rosann Wowchuk, the first woman anywhere in Canada to be named as a minister of agriculture, has announced she won’t seek re-election this fall.

Wowchuk, who represents the northwestern riding of Swan River, told media as recently as February that she planned to run again in the Oct. 4 provincial election, but “personal issues have arisen that have caused me to reconsider that decision,” she said in a release Monday.

Wowchuk, who before entering cabinet farmed with her husband Sylvester at Cowan, about 125 km north of Dauphin, started her political career as deputy reeve for what’s now the Rural Municipality of Mountain.

The sister of former provincial NDP cabinet ministers Harry and Len Harapiak, Wowchuk entered provincial politics in 1990 as the MLA for Swan River and was returned in all four subsequent elections.

Then-premier Gary Doer named Wowchuk as his agriculture minister in 1999 and to the additional role of deputy premier in 2003. She also served as minister for intergovernmental affairs and for co-operative development during her tenure in the ag portfolio.

During that time, she represented the province in the development of the federal/provincial Agricultural Policy Framework in 2003 and its successor funding framework, Growing Forward, in 2008, providing risk management programming and other funding for each province’s farmers.

Wowchuk’s tenure as ag minister also coincided with the discovery of Canada’s first case of BSE in an Alberta cow in 2003 — and the subsequent closure of several international markets, including the U.S., to Canadian beef and cattle.

Manitoba, with a dearth of beef slaughter space at that time, was particularly hard-pressed to find markets or processing space for its cattle during the BSE crisis.

Wowchuk responded by establishing the Manitoba Cattle Enhancement Council in 2006, funded in part by what’s now a refundable levy on cattle sales, to help finance development of beef slaughter capacity in the province.

Her tenure in the ag file also coincided with the province imposing an indefinite moratorium on development of the hog sector in the main livestock production corridor in the province’s southeast as well as the Interlake and Red River Valley.

The provincial government, citing protection of Lake Winnipeg in its decision, drew substantial political fire from Manitoba’s hog producers before it passed the related legislation in mid-2008.

“No-nonsense”

Premier Greg Selinger shuffled Wowchuk from the ag portfolio to the finance ministry in 2009, making her the first woman to hold the post of finance minister in Manitoba history.

“Her grassroots and no-nonsense approach coupled with her experience and energy made her a formidable minister, not only in this province but across Canada,” Selinger said in Monday’s release.

“Her experience has proved successful and can already be seen in the development and growth both in urban and rural communities,” he said. “She has been an advocate for every Manitoban in this province.”

Wowchuk didn’t provide any specifics on what “personal issues” drove her decision, but said in the release she plans on spending time with her family and continuing her activism and advocacy in her community.