Alberta UCP’s trade critic named ag minister

Devin Dreeshen is sworn in on April 30, 2019 as Alberta’s agriculture minister; Premier Jason Kenney looks on. (Video screengrab from Government of Alberta via YouTube)

Alberta’s new premier has tapped a not-quite-rookie MLA with experience in farming, farm policy and U.S. politics as his new minister of agriculture and forestry.

Jason Kenney, sworn in Tuesday as premier, named Devin Dreeshen, the MLA for Innisfail-Sylvan Lake since last July, to handle the ag and forestry file.

Dreeshen came to the UCP’s opposition benches in a byelection following the resignation of UCP MLA Don MacIntyre and was named the opposition critic for trade. In the April 16 general election, Dreeshen easily won re-election by a spread of over 15,000 votes against NDP challenger Robyn O’Brien.

Dreeshen, the son of federal Conservative MP Earl Dreeshen, is today billed as a fifth-generation owner of the family’s farm near Pine Lake, about 30 km southeast of Red Deer.

He studied economics and political science at the University of Alberta, then served briefly as a legislative assistant in the provincial transportation and infrastructure ministry, before working from 2008 to 2015 in the office of then-federal agriculture minister Gerry Ritz.

Dreeshen worked for Ritz in “issues management” and as a policy advisor on matters of grain transportation and international trade, particularly on the former Conservative government’s deregulation of Prairie wheat and barley marketing.

After the federal Conservatives’ defeat in 2015, Dreeshen returned to Alberta and joined the board of the pro-deregulation farmer group the Western Canadian Wheat Growers in 2016, serving there as a director up until his run in the 2018 provincial byelection.

According to his biography on the UCP caucus website, he then also hung out his shingle as a consultant advising ag sector stakeholders on trade issues.

Dreeshen was also documented as having worked for several months in 2016 in the U.S. as a volunteer on the election campaign of President Donald Trump. That stint isn’t mentioned in Dreeshen’s MLA biography but his byline appears on a November 2016 article for the Ottawa-based Hill Times describing his travels on the Trump campaign’s behalf.

Asked later about the experience by an Edmonton reporter for the Toronto Star, Dreeshen said he “met a lot of really great people and I think that those contacts now, as an MLA, will just serve me better to reach out and they’re our largest trading partner.”

The Wheat Growers’ current Alberta vice-president, Stephen Vandervalk, hailed Dreeshen’s appointment Tuesday as ag minister, saying it’s “appropriate that as we anticipate improvements to agriculture policy in Alberta, that we have an active farmer in the role of minister.”

Team Alberta, representing the province’s wheat, barley, pulse and canola grower commissions, said Tuesday it’s “eager to work with the new minister, the department of agriculture and forestry and the Agriculture Financial Services Corporation (AFSC) on matters that impact Alberta farmers.”

The provincial legislative assembly is scheduled to reconvene May 21.

Top bureaucrat remains

Kenney on Tuesday also announced the new members of the provincial deputy ministers’ council, which consists of the chief public servant for each provincial ministry.

Andre Corbould, who then-premier Rachel Notley named in March last year as deputy minister for agriculture and forestry, remains in that position as the ag ministry’s top bureaucrat.

Kenney’s other cabinet appointments Tuesday included Travis Toews, the rookie MLA for Grande Prairie-Wapiti, a cattle rancher and former president (2010-12) of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, as minister of finance.

Among other portfolios of interest to farmers, rookie Calgary MLA Tanya Fir has been named as the new minister for economic development, trade and tourism; Jason Nixon, MLA for Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre since 2015 and former opposition house leader, as environment minister; and Ric McIver, a Calgary MLA since 2012, as transportation minister, a re-appointment to that file.

As ag minister, Dreeshen will replace the New Democrats’ Oneil Carlier, who was defeated April 16 in his riding of Lac Ste. Anne-Parkland by UCP challenger Shane Getson. The NDP’s shadow cabinet hasn’t yet been announced. — Glacier FarmMedia Network

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