Alberta NDP taps ex-AAFC staffer as ag minister

A former technician with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada has been named as the Alberta New Democrats’ first minister of agriculture, forestry and rural development.

Premier Rachel Notley on Sunday named Whitecourt-Ste. Anne MLA Oneil Carlier to the now-expanded portfolio, which takes over responsibility for forestry from the department of environment and sustainable resource development.

Including Notley and 11 ministers — down from 16 and three associates under Premier Jim Prentice — the new cabinet was described Sunday in a government release as “lean and efficient… firmly focused on solving the challenges that face Alberta.”

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The new ministers, the government said, “will partner with Alberta’s job creators — in energy, forestry, agriculture, high-tech, tourism and small business — to grow and diversify our economy.”

Carlier is one of several rookie MLAs who rode Notley’s Orange Wave into the legislature in the May 5 election, unseating Prentice’s party whip and caucus chair George VanderBurg, who’d held the riding for the Tories since 2001.

Raised on a cattle and grain operation at Val Marie in southwestern Saskatchewan, Carlier worked as a geotechnical technician for AAFC’s Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration from 1981 to 2002.

At PFRA, he was involved in “construction quality control” on projects such as southern Alberta’s Bassano Dam rehabilitation project and Crawling Valley irrigation project, and was also involved in union affairs with the Public Service Alliance of Canada.

Carlier — who now lives with his wife near Darwell, north of Wabamun Lake — later served in Edmonton as a PSAC regional representative for units including staff with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Environment Canada.

Opposition

In the legislature, Carlier will face a relative veteran in provincial politics, Drumheller-Stettler MLA Rick Strankman, who Wildrose leader Brian Jean named on May 11 as the official opposition critic for agriculture.

Strankman, a grain grower at Altario, Alta., northwest of Kindersley, Sask., and a former treasurer of the Western Barley Growers Association, has held the riding for Wildrose since 2012, handling critic portfolios including skills training and labour, culture and tourism, jobs, and Service Alberta.

Outside Alberta, Strankman is also known for risking jail time for his part in cross-border protests trucking wheat into the U.S. in 1996, in violation of the former Canadian Wheat Board’s single marketing desk on wheat exports.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper pardoned Strankman and 12 others from the Farmers for Justice group in 2012, after deregulating the CWB single desk.

Pledges

The provincial NDP’s platform leading up to this month’s election included a handful of general pledges for the ag sector, such as a review of federal rail and transportation policies for their effect on Alberta farmers, and a push for “reliable, sufficient, and fairly priced rail service to markets.”

The party also promised to “strengthen landowners’ rights for fair compensation and due process” in issues relating to surface rights; to “stand up for farmers’ rights to save and sell their seed;” and to “work with small producers to eliminate barriers to local food production and marketing.”

Notley also pledged a “green retrofitting” loan program to help families, farms and small businesses reduce energy usage affordably, and to “strengthen environmental standards, inspection, monitoring and enforcement to protect Alberta’s water, land and air.”

The NDP has also promised to end Prentice’s “costly and ineffective” carbon capture and storage plan, and to reinvest funds budgeted for the program in 2015-16 into construction of public transit. — AGCanada.com Network

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