A group of Peace Country farmers had a meeting with a special guest earlier this month — the so-called ‘minister for almost everything’ who has become Justin Trudeau’s top lieutenant in his minority government.
But up in the Peace, many know Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland as Don’s daughter and that sparked the idea for the invite.
“I’ve known her father, Don Freeland, for quite some time,” said Henry Vos, a retired pedigreed seed grower from Fairview. “Don is a retired lawyer who farmed and who still lives in Peace River.
“I suggested that it would be really nice if the next time his daughter came home for a visit that we have a little farm meeting.”
In December, Freeland’s office reached out to Vos, and he gathered about 11 farmers together for a meeting in Peace River.
“Between myself and Don, we came up with a list of local people who wouldn’t have to travel a long distance,” said Vos. “They were able to bring some of the local issues to the table.”
It’s quite a coup considering Freeland, who spent her early years on a farm in Peace River, is arguably the busiest federal politician in the country.
The former journalist made a name for herself in the Trudeau government’s first term as minister of international trade and then foreign affairs, stickhandling the intense and always tricky renegotiation of the NAFTA deal, which President Donald Trump had threatened to scrap. Following the October election that saw no Liberal elected between Winnipeg and Vancouver, she was promoted to deputy PM and given the task of trying to mend fences, particularly in Alberta.
The group of producers present had varying farm sizes and ranged in age from under 30 to about 75. Don Freeland attended the meeting as well.
“We had an excellent group of farmers all willing to speak up and talk about issues,” said Vos. “Many farmers are facing the same issues. The majority of farmers in the room still had crop in the field.”
During the hour-and-a-half-long meeting, farmers talked about major issues facing crop producers in Western Canada. The carbon tax was a major talking point, specifically as it relates to grain drying.
“The fuel needed for grain drying — I had the observation that it was an oversight,” said Vos. “When it’s in legislation, it’s difficult to change but they were going to have a look at it. The people in the room made sure the assistants were aware of the issue.”
Markets, particularly ones that farmers felt have been influenced by government decisions, were another point of contention. China was mentioned as a significant issue, said Vos.
Other farmers discussed the importance of reliable rail service and some spoke about cash flow challenges when crop is still in the field.
AgriStability is another concern, said Vos, and Freeland, who now lives in Toronto, said the program is currently under review. Some farmers talked about the lack of childcare in rural areas, and how this affects farming families.
The group also had an authentic Peace Country experience.
Freeland and her assistants were supposed to fly from Edmonton to the meeting, but due to a blizzard, had to drive in.
“The group got a very good experience of the travel and distances involved in travel from Peace River to Edmonton,” noted Vos.
The initial organizer who contacted him said the conversation was intended to give Freeland a better understanding of western alienation from the agricultural perspective.
Those at the meeting understood she was there to listen, said Marc Lavoie, a forage exporter and grain farmer from St. Isidore.
“She was getting farmers’ feelings on how things are going and what to address,” he said. “She was there to get information, she wasn’t there to provide answers.
“To me, it’s a positive that she’s actually willing to come out and hear our concerns.”
Whether that leads to action is another matter, he added.
“She’s just a member of the government, how they take it is another issue,” said Lavoie. “That she actually came out here to listen is a good step. The effort to come out is a good thing. It’s a good first step.”