Andrea Lyon will have a hard act to follow when she takes over as deputy minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada succeeding Suzanne Vinet, who held the post for nearly two hectic years.
Vinet is retiring after 28 years in the federal civil service including several stints in agriculture as well as senior executive posts at Transport and Health Canada.
Several farm spokesmen noted Vinet kept a steady hand on the wheel as Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada dealt with sweeping changes to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), the Growing Forward program, grain transportation problems and trade negotiations with various countries, including the tentative deal with the European Union.
Lyon isn’t a total unknown to farm groups as she was the associate deputy minister of agriculture from 2009 to 2011 and has a lengthy background in trade matters with Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada.
Ron Bonnett, president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, said Vinet set a clear direction for the department and ensured it was followed. “She was direct, frank and very supportive of agriculture. She figured out how to get things done and pushed the trade agenda to help farmers.”
Restructuring CFIA to improve food safety in Canada was a political minefield that she stepped through carefully with measures to improve the situation without making Canadian agriculture uncompetitive, he added in an interview.
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Richard Phillips, president of the Canada Grains Council and former executive director of Grain Growers of Canada, said Vinet “will be missed as she has a solid agriculture background from previous time in the department. She really knew our industry and the respective players and relative importance of each of the files and each of the sectors.”
Experienced leadership at Agriculture Canada is important as production agriculture is facing increasing scrutiny on sustainability and environmental issues, he said.
John Masswohl, vice-president of Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, said his sector appreciated Vinet’s experience in trade policy and leadership. “I think the only thing that makes me feel better about losing Suzanne is the appointment of Andrea Lyon as deputy minister.”
Lyon “knows her stuff. She is knowledgeable, politically astute, an outstanding negotiator, great with people and she gets things done,” he said in an interview. “In a word she is a leader. We are fortunate to have a talent like her coming in at the department to replace the great one we are losing.”
Bonnett said Lyon’s background is welcome because of her experience in trade negotiations and policy development. “We have issues in the grain export trade while we have to make sure we have the processes in place to make sure the trade deal with Europe will enable us to get into those markets.”
Lyon also has experience in immigration issues from her stint as an assistant deputy minister of Citizen and Immigration Canada, he noted. That’s important because many agricultural sectors depend on access to foreign workers.
Phillips said that Lyon’s “trade experience will also be very valuable as we move to implement the European and South Korea trade deals. There are a lot of details to be worked out to ensure that the market access is real.”
Lyon comes to AAFC after nearly three years as associate deputy minister of environment.