Premier Jason Kenney has chosen one of his youngest MLAs to be the province’s new agriculture minister.
But although he’s just 31 and has only been an MLA for 10 months, Devin Dreeshen comes to the job with a robust resumé.
The Innisfail-Sylvan Lake rep is the son of veteran Tory Red Deer-Mountain View MP Earl Dreeshen and worked as a policy adviser to former federal agriculture minister Gerry Ritz between 2008 and 2015. After that, he worked on Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
He’s also a fifth-generation farmer from near Pine Lake who was a director of the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association until becoming an MLA.
Dreeshen wasn’t available at press time as all cabinet ministers had to be “briefed on their portfolios” before speaking to the media, Kenney’s press secretary said. But many farm leaders were singing his praises.
Dreeshen’s experience should allow him to hit the ground running, said Sylvan Lake grain farmers Mike and Allison Ammeter, who both have extensive experience in farm groups.
“Michael and I have met him numerous times,” said Allison Ammeter, chair of Pulse Canada. “He is a stand-up guy with loads of political experience for a 30-year-old.”
“It’s a good position for Devin,” added Mike Ammeter, a former chair of Alberta Barley. “He’s a young man, but he’s got a lot of experience — both practical and political.
“He’s a farmer and I know he’s actively farming on the family farm, so that gives him a leg up right off the bat.”
Another farm leader who lives in Dreeshen’s riding agreed.
“I think Devin is a great choice,” said Kevin Bender, past chair of Alberta Wheat. “He’s no stranger to politics, and he has a good farming background. The two have positioned him well for this appointment.”
But the new ag minister has his work cut out for him, added Bender, citing China’s canola seed ban as well as the protection- ist policies of India in regard to pulses and Italy in regard to durum.
“There are a few issues that need attention, and trade is at the top of the chart for sure,” he said. “I don’t know what he can do provincially, but certainly I hope he’ll be working with our federal government to try and eradicate some of these trade issues we have with China, India, and Italy.”
Research is also a priority for Alberta farm organizations, Bender added.
“Research funding was something we were trying to push forward with the last government, so hopefully, we’ll gain some momentum there and get moving on it.”
Jeff Nielsen, who farms near Olds, said he has known Dreeshen since his time with Ritz, who ended the Canadian Wheat Board’s single-desk system.
“The major western issue we had at that time was the Canadian Wheat Board,” said Nielsen (who is chair of the Grain Growers of Canada but stressed he was speaking as an individual).
“He was very active in helping Minister Ritz on that file. That’s where he garnered a lot of recognition and support because he would reach out to groups such as the Western Barley Growers Association and Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association to solicit their support and ideas.”
Nielsen said he expects Dreeshen to be an active ag minister.
“Devin has the ambition and the means to seek better things for Alberta agriculture. He knows the issues first hand. They (the Dreeshen family) grow canola, wheat, barley, pulses — they know the issues with all those crops.”
The new ag minister may also get called to work on another file.
“I think it’s actually helpful to have in our caucus an MLA who can get people on the phone in the U.S. administration, who knows some of them and has worked with some of them,” Kenney said after Dreeshen was elected last year.
“Devin and I totally agree with each other in our opposition to the Trump administration’s protectionism, particularly our opposition to his unprovoked tariffs on our steel and aluminum industry.”
And on election night, Dreeshen was look- ing forward to having a hand in helping the UCP regain the ‘Alberta Advantage.’
“It was great to see our positive vision and positive campaign that we have been promoting over the last 28 days, that it resonated with Albertans,” Dreeshen said at his victory party following the election.
“Albertans wanted a change, they wanted something that was different. I think that we as United Conservatives offered that positive change and more economic focus.”
Alberta’s carbon tax will likely be first up on the chopping block. The new United Conservative Party government plans to replace the carbon tax with a new program targeting large emitters — including large industrial and oil and gas operations — while maintaining many of the environ- mental programs the NDP put in place.
Dreeshen echoed that sentiment after campaigning across central Alberta lead- ing up to the election.
“Ultimately the first thing that we are going to do is the Carbon Tax Repeal Act, which is something that resonated very well across the riding,” he said following his election win.
On the ag front, Kenney committed to replacing the NDP’s Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act with the Farm Freedom and Safety Act following consultation with Alberta’s agriculture industry.
The new act would bring in more basic safety standards and injury coverage, allow- ing farmers the option for third-party work- place injury coverage. (Farm employers are currently required to get their coverage from the Workers Compensation Board.) Small farms of three or fewer paid employees would also be exempt from the new legislation.
But repealing the current regulations in favour of something brand new may “throw out the good with the bad,” Lacombe dairy farmer Albert Kamps said in an interview last year.
“At this point, I think we’ve landed in a good place, and I’d be against blindly rolling it back,” said Kamps, chair of AgCoalition, the multi-commodity group that helped develop the current regulations.
While the carbon tax and workplace safety were the cornerstones of Kenney’s plan to help Alberta’s agriculture industry, the UCP also committed to ensuring that “farmers, not government, set key agriculture research priorities.” While no details have been released, additional funding would be welcome news for Alberta farmers who lost two research agencies under the NDP’s rule.
On the livestock side, the Alberta Live- stock and Meat Agency was disbanded in 2016, eliminating a major funder that invested nearly $13 million a year in live- stock research. Then in 2018, Alberta farmers also lost the Alberta Crop Industry Development Fund, which injected up to $7 million in research funding annually on the crop side. Now the provincial government is investing a little over $12 million a year split between the livestock and crop sectors — a significant loss to the industry. New research funding would help repair the bridge between the government and Alberta’s agriculture industry.
More importantly, it would reinforce that Alberta is, indeed, “open for business,” as Kenney declared during his victory speech.
“This democratic decision is a message to all of those Albertans who are struggling,” said Kenney on election night.
“To the unemployed, to those who have given up, to the small business owners barely hanging on, to the young people who got their degrees and diplomas but can’t put them to work, to those who have lost their homes and their hope after years of economic decline and stagnation.
“To them, we send this message: Help is on the way, and hope is on the horizon.”