Lorne Hehn, at his funeral last week, was remembered as the Saskatchewan farmer-turned-businessman who led the Canadian Wheat Board toward its next-to-last incarnation as a farmer-controlled marketing agency.
Hehn, who died Sept. 16 at age 79, had farmed at Markinch, about 65 km north of Regina, and was involved in several farm organizations, becoming a member of the board of directors for Winnipeg-based grain handler United Grain Growers (UGG) in 1970.
Hehn became UGG’s president, relocating to Winnipeg in 1981. He led the company until 1990, when he quit to accept an appointment from then-prime minister Brian Mulroney’s minister of state for grains and oilseeds, Charlie Mayer, as chief commissioner for the Canadian Wheat Board.
In his notice of resignation that fall, Hehn said he had “mixed feelings” about leaving UGG — which by then was well established as a vocal opponent of the CWB’s single marketing desk for Prairie wheat and barley.
UGG, Hehn wrote, “has always demonstrated that it can and does put farmer-shareholder interests ahead of company interests many times, I daresay, at the expense of our bottom line.”
Hehn, according to his obituary, was “instrumental in advocating for reform on behalf of farmers” during his stint at the CWB.
He steered the Crown corporation through a 1997 plebiscite in which just under two-thirds of voting barley growers chose to keep Prairie barley as part the CWB’s single-desk monopoly.
The obituary noted Hehn’s “strength of character and conviction to speak his mind in order to effect change on behalf of those whom he represented.”
Hehn also led the CWB through a level-of-service complaint to the Canadian Transportation Agency against Canadian National and Canadian Pacific Railways (CN, CP) over the railways’ service in the 1996-97 crop year.
CN reached a “no-fault” settlement with the CWB, while the CTA ruled in 1998 that CP had discriminated against grain movement and in some instances breached its level of service. The CWB’s commissioners, in their 1997-98 report, said the railways’ grain movement became “significantly better” the following crop year.
Hehn was also the CWB’s last chief commissioner, as changes to the Canadian Wheat Board Act led to the appointment of a CEO and a 15-member board of directors including 10 elected farmers, starting in 1998.
While working for the CWB, Hehn “truly enjoyed visiting other countries and he was curious and excited to explore other cultures. However, he was a farmer at heart, and was always the happiest when he was ‘working on the land,'” his obituary said.
Hehn, who relocated to Saskatoon in his post-CWB life, also served on the boards of directors for RBC, PotashCorp and Lutheran Life.
His obituary described him as an “important figure in Canadian agriculture (and) a businessman who always placed the needs of farmers first and foremost in his decisions and actions.”
Hehn’s funeral service was held last Monday (Sept. 28) at the hall in Markinch. — AGCanada.com Network