Tories challenge ag minister on chief of staff

The federal Conservatives want the House of Commons’ agriculture committee to probe the hiring of a Canadian egg processing heiress as chief of staff to the ag minister.

Tory ag critic Chris Warkentin on Wednesday called on both Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay and his new chief of staff, Mary Jean McFall, to testify before the standing agriculture committee “at the earliest opportunity.”

Warkentin, a northwestern Alberta MP, said he wants MacAulay and McFall “to explain to Canadians how the Liberal government has justified this glaring conflict of interest.”

Warkentin specifically cited McFall’s “past, present or future ties to her family’s large corporation, Burnbrae Farms, which for a period of time was also her employer.”

He also noted her 12-year stint as a director on the board of Egg Farmers of Ontario, which he described as “a lobby group representing specific industry interests relating to her family’s corporation.”

McFall, Warkentin said, has given “no adequate explanation for how she will be able to conduct herself fairly when she advises on policy or potential trade deals that may impact her family’s corporation.”

Burnbrae Farms, a producer and processor operated by the Hudson family in eastern Ontario for over 120 years, today sells eggs nationwide. McFall is a great-granddaughter of the company’s founder, Joseph Hudson.

McFall, a lawyer by profession, served as Burnbrae’s general counsel for about three years before joining Belleville, Ont.-based law firm Templeman Menninga in 2007, working out of its offices in Brockville and Kingston, handling mainly corporate and commercial law.

McFall also ran unsuccessfully for the federal Liberals in last October’s general election in southern Ontario’s Leeds-Grenville riding, losing to Tory incumbent Gord Brown by a spread of 3,850 votes.

MacAulay, Warkentin said, “has not adequately assured Canadians that his chief of staff will not use her new position to advance her family’s private financial interest. How can hard working farm families trust that their minister is receiving unbiased advice?”

In federal cabinet ministers’ offices, the chief of staff is considered the minister’s most senior political advisor, and manages the minister’s office, including budgets and staffing. The chief is also the minister’s liaison with senior department officials, the prime minister’s office and other ministers’ chiefs of staff.

According to political news website iPolitics, McFall started as MacAulay’s chief of staff in late December. — AGCanada.com Network

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