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Dairyman turned ag minister John Wise, 77

Memorial services will be held Monday in St. Thomas, Ont. for John Wise, the southwestern Ontario dairyman who served as the federal agriculture minister for Brian Mulroney and Joe Clark.

Wise, the Progressive Conservative MP for Ontario’s Elgin constituency from 1972 to 1988, died Wednesday at age 77 at Victoria Hospital at London, Ont.

Wise was a fifth-generation dairyman whose involvement in farm policy included stints as president of the Oxford and District Cattle Breeders Association (later part of Western Ontario Breeders) and as chairman of the Canadian Livestock Exporters Association and Canadian Embryo Exports Association.

He entered politics at the municipal level, serving as reeve of Yarmouth township (1968-69) and as warden of Elgin County in 1969.

After his first election to the House of Commons in 1972, Wise became a member of the Commons standing committee on agriculture in 1973, served as the Tories’ critic for the dairy industry (1974-76) and was named the party’s critic for agriculture in 1976.

Wise became minister of agriculture in 1979 during the Tories’ short stint in government under Joe Clark. He was returned to the ag critic’s chair in 1980, opposite Pierre Trudeau’s ag minister Eugene Whelan, and became agriculture minister again (1984-88) under then-prime minister Brian Mulroney.

"John was a capable and realistic minister with a knowledge of agriculture from the ground up," Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said in a statement Friday.

Wise, who didn’t seek re-election in 1988, was also "instrumental in the development of the Canada-U.S. Trade Agreement from an agricultural perspective," he said.

Wise helped deliver related transitional assistance for grape growers, which in turn "laid the foundation for today’s world-class Canadian wine industry," Ritz added.

According to Wise’s obituary Friday in the St. Thomas Times-Journal, one of the highlights of his stint as ag minister was to establish new research stations and laboratories in London and Guelph, and throughout Canada.

Wise "was highly respected in the farm community and by Canadians for his integrity and dedication to the job of serving and growing Canadian agriculture," Ritz said, noting Wise also helped develop "stronger federal-provincial-territorial relations to move the industry forward."

Accolades for Wise during and following his political career included the title of founding honorary president of the Soil Conservation Council of Canada and an honorary membership in the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association. A public school in St. Thomas was named for him in 2009.

The public funeral service for Wise is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Monday (Jan. 14) at Knox Presbyterian Church at 55 Hincks St. in St. Thomas.

Friday’s obituary asked that donations in Wise’s memory be made to Food Banks Canada or to a charity of one’s choice.

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