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Ag incumbents in, farm leaders out

Barring a major shuffle of cabinet and critic responsibilities, Tuesday’s federal election will have changed little in terms of who handles the agriculture and agri-food file in Ottawa.

But Tuesday didn’t go nearly as well for a number of well-known farm leaders looking to break into the federal political scene.

In unofficial results Tuesday night, Prime Minister Stephen Harper is on his way back to Ottawa with a larger minority government, elected or leading in 143 seats and holding just under 38 per cent of the popular vote. The Conservative government’s gains came mostly at the expense of Stephane Dion’s Liberals, who were elected or leading in just 77 seats with about 26 per cent of the vote.

Gilles Duceppe’s Bloc Quebecois was elected or leading in 49 ridings with a 10 per cent share of the vote, while Jack Layton’s New Democrats picked up more seats, elected or leading in 37 with an 18 per cent vote share. Two independent MPs were elected, while the Green Party and its leader, Elizabeth May, were shut out but drew almost a seven per cent share of the vote.

Harper’s minister for agriculture and agri-food, Gerry Ritz, easily won his Saskatchewan riding of Battlefords-Lloydminster by a spread of over 9,000 votes over NDP candidate Bob Woloshyn.

Ritz had drawn fire in the national press over wisecracks made on a conference call with federal officials during this summer’s listeriosis scare in deli meats, but the controversy that limited Ritz’s public visibility during the campaign doesn’t appear to have fazed voters at the riding level.

Ritz’s Conservative caucus colleagues on the ag file also held their seats, with David Anderson, the parliamentary secretary for the Canadian Wheat Board, winning his neighbouring Saskatchewan riding of Cypress Hills-Grasslands by a spread of over 14,000 votes over the NDP’s Scott Wilson.

Christian Paradis, Harper’s secretary of state for agriculture and minister of public works, also kept his southern Quebec riding of Megantic-L’Erable by a margin of over 8,000 votes over Bloc candidate Pierre Turcotte.

James Bezan, who at the dissolution of Parliament chaired the Commons standing committee on agriculture and agri-food, also won his Manitoba riding of Selkirk-Interlake by a spread of over 13,800 votes over NDP candidate Pat Cordner.

And Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl, whom Ritz replaced in the ag portfolio, again won his B.C. seat of Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon, this time by a margin of over 20,000 votes over NDP challenger Helen Kormendy.

Opposition benches

The Liberals’ agriculture critic, former National Farmers Union (NFU) president Wayne Easter, held his Prince Edward Island riding of Malpeque by a margin of over 900 votes over Conservative candidate Mary Crane.

Easter was the target of one of Ritz’s wisecracks that surfaced in the early days of the campaign, in which a government staffer incorrectly reported that a P.E.I. resident had died of listeriosis in the Maple Leaf cold cuts scare, to which Ritz is reported to have replied, “Please tell me it’s Wayne Easter.”

Ralph Goodale, who served as Jean Chretien’s agriculture minister and minister for the Canadian Wheat Board, held Saskatchewan’s lone Liberal seat, winning his Wascana riding by a spread of over 4,300 votes over Conservative candidate Michelle Hunter.

Bloc Quebecois agriculture critic Andre Bellavance also held his southern Quebec riding of Richmond-Arthabaska, beating Conservative candidate Eric Lefebvre by a spread of over 8,800 votes. And NDP ag critic Alex Atamanenko also appears to have held his Castlegar-area riding of British Columbia Southern Interior, beating Conservative candidate Rob Zandee by about 6,000 votes, with some polling stations still to report Tuesday night.

Farming faces

While their associations with the ag file didn’t hurt incumbents, a number of high-profile Canadian farm leaders aiming to enter the federal political arena were shut out in Tuesday’s voting.

Most prominent among those was southern Manitoba farmer Bob Friesen, who quit as president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture to carry the Liberal banner in the suburban Winnipeg riding of Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia. He lost to Conservative incumbent Steven Fletcher by a margin of over 13,000 votes.

Rod Flaman, an organic farmer from Edenwold, Sask. and an elected farmer-director with the Canadian Wheat Board, finished third for the Liberals in the riding of Regina-Qu’Appelle. Flaman drew fewer than 3,000 votes against Conservative incumbent Andrew Scheer and NDP challenger Janice Bernier.

Another former NFU president, Saskatchewan farmer and professor Nettie Wiebe, narrowly lost in the riding of Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar to the Conservatives’ Kelly Block. The riding, previously held by the Conservatives’ Carol Skelton, went to Block with a margin of about 250 votes over Wiebe, representing the NDP.

Cindy Duncan McMillan, a rancher, former president of the Quebec Farmers’ Association and councilor with Quebec’s Union des producteurs agricoles (UPA), got a pre-election boost in profile as co-chair, with Wayne Easter, of the federal Liberals’ task force on agriculture starting in late 2007. But she was defeated Tuesday in the southwestern Quebec riding of Pontiac by Lawrence Cannon, the Conservatives’ transport minister, by a margin of about 3,600 votes.

Another prominent organic farmer, David Orchard of Borden, Sask., a former federal Progressive Conservative leadership hopeful and vocal free-trade opponent, lost his bid for the northern Saskatchewan riding of Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River. Orchard ran Tuesday as a Liberal and lost to Conservative candidate Rob Clarke by a spread of about 3,100 votes.

An exception among farm leaders was Randy Hoback, a farmer at Canwood, Sask., and former chairman of the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association. He won the northern Saskatchewan riding of Prince Albert, previously held by the Conservatives’ Brian Fitzpatrick, by a spread of almost 7,600 votes over NDP candidate Valerie Mushinski.

— Numbers quoted in this article are based on unofficial results. Official results will soon be available from Elections Canada.

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