“I’m very much acquainted with the needs of farmers through representing producers.”
– STAN STRUTHERS
By his own admission, Stan Struthers’ farming experience consists of picking up the odd stone by hand and once wrapping a harrow around a tractor.
Struthers grew up in town and didn’t live on the half section grain farm west of Swan River owned by his dad, a railway employee.
Even so, Manitoba’s new agriculture minister feels in tune with farmers.
“I’ve lived in rural Manitoba and rural Saskatchewan virtually all my life. I’m very much acquainted with the needs of farmers through representing producers in the Dauphin-Roblin area for the last 14, going on 15 years,” Struthers said shortly after being sworn in as minister of agriculture, food and rural initiatives last week.
Now comes the hard part: mending fences with the farmers, especially hog producers, he previously alienated as conservation minister with Bill 17, the so-called hog moratorium legislation.
Struthers feels he’s up to the challenge.
“The hog industry and I dealt with some very tough issues over the last number of years. What I’ve always valued is the professional way in which Manitoba Pork and the hog producers both approached that,” he said.
“We were able to enact legislation, we were able to continue to meet with hog producers and continue to develop a relationship which I’m very much looking forward to continuing.”
Despite lacking a farm background, Struthers’ appointment to the agriculture portfolio was not surprising, given the scarcity of government MLAs outside Metro Winnipeg.
Struthers replaced longtime agriculture minister, Rosann Wowchuk in a major cabinet shuffle by Premier Greg Selinger Nov. 3.
A teacher by training, Struthers was first elected to the Manitoba legislature in 1995 as the member for Dauphin constituency. He was re-elected as the MLA for Dauphin-Roblin in 1999, 2003 and 2007.
After the NDP took power in 1999, Struthers served as legislative assistant to the minister of health, later joining cabinet as conservation minister.
He said his first job as agriculture minister will be to sit down and meet with as many producer groups as he can.
“I think all sectors of farming are challenged these days. I think they want to know that this minister and our government are in their corner. I intend to show that we are.”
Ian Wishart, Keystone Agricultural Producers president, said his group will push the minister for greater recognition of on-farm environmental goods and services.
Wishart said Struthers supported KAP’s Alternate Land Use Services plan while conservation minister and he expected that support to continue.
Wishart said he wasn’t concerned about Struthers’ specific lack of agricultural experience because the portfolio is now also about rural life, not just farming.
Meanwhile Wowchuk, the NDP government’s first and only agriculture minister since the party took office in 1999, becomes finance minister, succeeding Selinger.
The Agriculture Department underwent several identity changes under Wowchuk’s leadership, becoming Agriculture and Food and later Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives.
Wowchuk helped steer the industry through a maze of changing farm programs, from AIDA, CFIP and CAIS to the new AgriRecovery and AgriStability.
She said she took particular satisfaction in supporting the Food Development Centre in Portage la Prairie, helping to develop more value-added processing in the province.
Her biggest disappointment was an inability to develop more beef-processing capacity in Manitoba, especially with the failure of Ranchers Beef Co-op to get off the ground.
But some consolat ion came on Wowchuk’s last full day as agriculture minister with the announcement of funding for Keystone Processors, an up-and-coming beef plant in Winnipeg.
Although receiving periodic criticism from farmers for her policies, Wowchuk said she always took it in stride.
“If you take on the responsibility of a minister, you will please some people and others will be dissatisfied. But I’m very proud of my record, the length of time I’ve been minister and the work that I have done.” [email protected]