How does a 4-H mom and farm wife wind up as a deputy premier and finance minister – one of the most powerful portfolios in politics?
It’s quite simple really: work tirelessly and file your nomination papers on time.
After 21 years in provincial politics, NDP Deputy Premier Rosann Wowchuk has announced she won’t seek re-election in the Oct. 4 election.
Although she had intended to run, she said she has had to reconsider, citing personal health reasons.
“I am very honoured to have served the people of the Swan River constituency for the last 21 years, proud to have represented the farming community, Métis and First Nations, and the urban centres in the legislature,” she stated in a news release July 4.
Born and raised in the Swan River area, Wowchuk spent nearly 30 years in municipal and provincial politics, after first becoming active in community advocacy work. She and husband Sylvestor raised their three children on their farm near Cowan, where they still live.
Wowchuk began her community work organizing dance and 4-H clubs, and serving on local boards. The young mom also sought a small loan to start a ceramics business.
“In those days you had to get your husband to sign for it,” said Wowchuk, the first woman in Manitoba to hold the finance portfolio.
She entered local politics at a time when very few women were serving in office and won her first election in 1983 by default, when the incumbent for the LGD of Mountain council seat failed to submit his nomination papers on time.
“Nobody realized I was running so the other person didn’t put their name in,” she recalls. Acclaimed that year and once more, she was also elected to her local council and served on it until 1990 as both councillor and deputy reeve – the first woman to ever serve the municipality.
In 1990, she was elected MLA for Swan River and has held that seat through four subsequent elections. She served as opposition critic in several roles, including agriculture, and in government served as minister of intergovernmental affairs and minister responsible for cooperative development in addition to the agriculture portfolio. She was named deputy premier in 2003 and became finance minister in 2009.
Wowchuk has frequently taken the heat from the agricultural community during her tenure as ag minister, and more recently as minister responsible for Manitoba Hydro, for defending the NDP’s controversial plan to route Bipole III down the west side of Lake Winnipeg.
Without hesitation, she says her most difficult days in office were during the BSE crisis.
“BSE was one of the most stressful times of my life because I felt very helpless,” she said. “It was something you had no control over. … I grew up on a farm. I understood what they were going through. It was very, very difficult.”
She rated expansion and upgrades at the Food Development Centre in Portage la Prairie as a highlight during her tenure as ag minister, saying that value-added processing ventures are critical to the fortunes of rural Manitoba.
“I very much believe that we have to move just beyond growing food.”
Wowchuk said she remains optimistic that rural Manitoba will be a place more, not fewer people choose to live in future and is heartened by the small farm movement.
“I don’t really call them hobby farmers,” she said. “They’re people who just want to come back to the land and have some control (over their food supply).”
With now nearly 30 years of public behind her, Wowchuk said she looks forward to having more personal time.
“I’m hoping to get back to some of the things that I’ve had to set aside,” she said.
But she doesn’t appear to be planning to retire from community activism.
“I will never leave politics entirely,” she said. “I will not be an elected member of legislature. I’m not looking to be elected. But I grew up being an advocate for my community and I will continue to be an advocate for my community and for communities across this province because I believe in them. I will stay very involved with my colleagues. I’m proud of our record.”
“Iwillcontinuetobeanadvocateformy communityandforcommunitiesacrossthis provincebecauseIbelieveinthem.”