Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s first agriculture minister has announced he won’t seek re-election.
Chuck Strahl, the MP for the Chilliwack area in B.C. since 1993 and Harper’s agriculture minister from February 2006 to August 2007, is one of three B.C. Conservative MPs who announced Saturday they won’t run in the next federal election.
Strahl, in a statement on his website, didn’t give a specific reason for his departure, other than to note he was 36 with four children living at home when he was first elected to the Commons, and is now a 54-year-old empty-nester with 10 grandchildren.
“I vowed I would leave politics one day with the one thing that mattered most when I entered into it — the love and respect of those closest to me,” he wrote, adding that “for everything there is a season, and I am convinced this is the right time for me and (wife) Deb to seek out the next, wonderful purpose that God has in store for us.”
Before entering politics, Strahl was a partner in a road construction and logging contracting firm, managing operations throughout the Fraser Valley.
Strahl disclosed in 2005 that he has inoperable lung cancer, which he has said may be linked to exposure to asbestos from open brakes on logging equipment. His statement Saturday, however, emphasized he is “healthy.”
In a separate statement Saturday, Harper noted Strahl “has tackled each of his roles with passion and enthusiasm, and with tremendous achievement. Throughout his various ministerial positions, Chuck has worked tirelessly to improve the lives of Canadians.”
Strahl first sat as the Reform MP for Fraser Valley from 1993 to 2000, then as a Canadian Alliance MP from 2000 to 2003, except when suspended from the Alliance caucus as a member of a coalition of disgruntled MPs (2001-02).
Strahl then sat as the Conservative MP for what became Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon from 2003 onward, following the merger of the Progressive Conservative and Alliance parties.
Following his stint in the ag file, Strahl was shuffled first to the Indian Affairs ministry (2007-10) and has been in the transport, infrastructure and communities portfolio since August last year.
The Grain Growers of Canada hailed the shuffle to the transport file and noted at the time that as ag minister Strahl had “made a genuine effort to reach out to ordinary farmers and commodity associations to help the formation of government policy.”
While in the ag portfolio, Strahl oversaw a number of changes to the government’s much-criticized ag income stabilization (CAIS) program, leading to the launch of the AgriStability, AgriInvest, AgriRecovery and AgriInsurance programs in 2007.
As point man on the government’s policies favouring “marketing choice” in Prairie wheat and barley, he spearheaded a 2007 plebiscite on Prairie barley marketing, launched a controversial policy to block the Canadian Wheat Board from spending funds to “advocate for the retention of its monopoly powers” and in late 2006 dismissed the board’s then-CEO Adrian Measner.
Strahl was also the ag minister who in 2007 called for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to draft updates to compositional standards for cheese, leading to regulations which drew legal fire from major cheese processors such as Saputo and Kraft Canada. The revised standards have since been upheld in the courts including a recent ruling by the Federal Court of Appeal.
Strahl also spearheaded the government’s early moves to remove the kernel visual distinguishability (KVD) system from the crop variety registration process.
Also announcing Saturday that they would not seek re-election were Delta-Richmond East MP John Cummins and Okanagan-Coquihalla MP Stockwell Day, currently president of the federal Treasury Board, previously minister of international trade (2008-10) and Alliance opposition leader (2000-01).
During his stint in the international trade ministry, Day oversaw Canada’s formal calls for consultations and dispute settlement hearings at the World Trade Organization over U.S. mandatory country-of-origin labelling (COOL) for meats and other produce, and over South Korea’s ban on imports of Canadian beef.