Incoming Alta. premier taps ex-MPs to push for market access

Boosting market access for Alberta’s agricultural wares and other exports is expected to loom large on the new provincial premier’s radar.

Jim Prentice, sworn in Monday as premier, kept Wetaskiwin-Camrose MLA Verlyn Olson as his minister of agriculture and rural development, and reappointed Jason Krips as deputy minister for the department.

Prentice, in his mandate letter this week for Olson, said the ag minister’s “dedicated effort and focus” are required to help position the province’s ag industry for growth.

Growth, Prentice wrote, would be sought through “enhancing Alberta’s reputation” and “achieving access to international markets, including a focus upon the Asian Pacific basin.”

It would also be sought by “facilitat(ing) connections between rural Alberta and the demands of international and domestic consumers” and by “promoting and enhancing access into a variety of markets and sectors.”

Prentice on Wednesday pressed further on plans to focus on market access by naming three new “senior representatives” for the province, one each for the Asia Pacific region and the United States and one for Alberta’s neighbouring provinces.

For the U.S., Prentice has tapped Rob Merrifield, the member of Parliament for the Alberta riding of Yellowhead, who on Wednesday quit his MP post to take the provincial job, replacing David Manning.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2012 had tasked Merrifield, a former Alberta dairy farmer, with a two-year mandate to engage the U.S. Congress on “issues relevant to Canadian interests,” the province noted Wednesday.

To represent Alberta to the New West Partnership, to its NWP partners British Columbia and Saskatchewan, and to Canada’s North, Prentice named Jay Hill, the former B.C. Tory MP for Prince George-Peace River and a co-founder of the B.C. Grain Producers Association. Hill replaces Alan Ross, who announced last month he would quit the post at the end of October.

As senior representative for the Asian Pacific Basin, replacing former provincial Tory cabinet minister Gary Mar, Prentice has named Ron Hoffmann, who has previously served stints as Canada’s ambassador in Thailand and Afghanistan and as trade commissioner to the Netherlands, among other diplomatic posts.

The province said the three appointments “signal streamlined priorities that will be fundamentally tied to achieving secure market access and improving Alberta’s global competitiveness overall.”

The postings also “reflect a clear indication of the importance placed on enhancing intergovernmental and industry relationships across Canada, the U.S. and around the world.”

Prentice on Thursday served notice that the current session of the Alberta legislature will be prorogued and a new session would start Nov. 17.

Between now and then, provincial government House leader Diana McQueen said Thursday, new appointees in Prentice’s cabinet who aren’t yet MLAs will seek seats in byelections, details of which will be “available soon.” — Network


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