Manitoba’s incumbent ag minister Stan Struthers is among provincial lawmakers headed back to their seats in the legislature in Winnipeg in the wake of a fourth majority government in a row for the New Democrats.
Struthers, the MLA for the northwestern riding of Dauphin since 1995, held the constituency with 4,470 votes compared to 3,351 for the Progressive Conservatives’ candidate, schoolteacher Lloyd McKinney of Roblin.
Struthers, also a schoolteacher and high school principal before entering politics, was named ag minister in 2009 by Premier Greg Selinger, and previously was Gary Doer’s conservation minister, starting in 2003. He also served as deputy ag critic during Tory premier Gary Filmon’s final term in office.
It’s not yet known whether Struthers will be re-appointed to the ag portfolio, but the NDP, whose base is largely within Winnipeg and points north, is relatively light on farm experience compared to Hugh McFadyen’s Tories, who own most seats in agricultural Manitoba.
In those terms, other possible candidates for the ag minister’s post include Tom Nevakshonoff, the NDP’s MLA for the Interlake riding since 1999. He operates a sheep ranch at Poplarfield, where he has said he plans to establish a “farm vacation destination.”
Nevakshonoff, who before Tuesday’s election was legislative assistant on the conservation, infrastructure and transportation files, has previously chaired the legislature’s ag committee and served as legislative assistant to the ag minister.
On Tuesday night he beat Tory candidate Steve Lupky, a Manitoba Public Insurance employee and owner of a farm near Arborg, by 3,359 votes to Lupky’s 2,899.
Another possibility would be Ethelbert-area cow-calf producer and farmer Ron Kostyshyn, who replaces former ag minister Rosann Wowchuk as the NDP MLA for the northwestern riding of Swan River, beating Tory candidate Dave Powell, the local GM dealership owner, by 4,256 votes to 3,072.
Kostyshyn is a neophyte MLA but has served as reeve of the RM of Mossey River and on boards including the Intermountain Conservation District, Ethelbert District Veterinary Board and Farm Stewardship Association of Manitoba.
The Tories’ incumbent ag critic, grain grower and Charolais breeder Cliff Graydon of Woodmore, handily held his riding of Emerson, beating NDP candidate Lorie Fiddler by 3,983 votes to Fiddler’s 1,082.
It remains to be seen whether Graydon will continue as ag critic in a relatively deep talent pool that includes former Keystone Agricultural Producers president Ian Wishart, winning a first term as the MLA for Portage la Prairie, beating the NDP’s James Kostuchuk 3,566 to 2,689.
Other potential Tory ag critics returning to the legislature include:
- Blaine Pedersen, the MLA for what’s now the south-central riding of Midland since 2007, who before the election served as rural initiatives critic;
- Lakeside MLA and former ag critic Ralph Eichler, most recently critic for infrastructure, transportation and government services;
- Agassiz MLA Stu Briese, the local government critic;
- Cliff Cullen, MLA for Spruce Woods and former president of the Manitoba Weed Supervisors Association; and
- Arthur-Virden MLA Larry Maguire, most recently critic for conservation and water stewardship.
- Reg Helwer, the new MLA for Brandon West, comes to provincial politics as a partner in Shur-Gro Farm Services of Brandon.
Picking a critic for the farms file will be the least of the Tories’ concerns, as party leader Hugh McFadyen announced Tuesday night he would step down as opposition leader once a successor can be found.
Tuesday night’s loss may be a bitter pill for the Tories, who scored just under 44 per cent of the total popular vote compared to the NDP’s 46 per cent. The NDP, however, converted its share to 37 of 57 seats, compared to 19 seats for the Tories and one for provincial Liberal leader Jon Gerrard.