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Manitoba names new ag minister in shuffle

Ex-Manitoba premier Gary Doer’s conservation minister is now Premier Greg Selinger’s first agriculture minister.

Stan Struthers, the MLA for the rural, northwestern Manitoba constituency of Dauphin-Roblin, was named the province’s minister of agriculture, food and rural initiatives on Tuesday, replacing Rosann Wowchuk.

Wowchuk, a farmer and MLA for the neighbouring Swan River constituency, was appointed Tuesday as finance minister. She had handled the finance file on an interim basis since September, when Selinger stepped down from the job to run for the NDP leadership.

The leadership job — and, as a result, the premier’s office — had an opening when Doer announced in August he would resign as premier. He was appointed almost immediately afterward as Canada’s ambassador to the U.S. by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Struthers, a former schoolteacher, served two years as a high school principal at Rorketon, Man., northeast of Dauphin, before becoming Dauphin’s MLA in 1995. He held what then became the Dauphin-Roblin riding for the NDP in 1999, 2003 and 2007.

Struthers is no stranger to the ag portfolio, having served as natural resources critic and deputy ag critic during Tory premier Gary Filmon’s last term. Struthers became Doer’s conservation minister in 2003.

Nor is Struthers any stranger to farmers’ ire. As conservation minister he served as the point man for the NDP government’s controversial and ongoing moratorium against expansion of hog production in the province’s “hog alley” — a region covering the Red River Valley from the U.S. border to Lake Winnipeg.

The 2008 moratorium followed a provincewide “pause” in hog development starting in late 2006, when the province’s Clean Environment Commission announced a study of the environmental sustainability of hog production in Manitoba.

Expansion or development of hog barns was, and is, largely a moot point across Manitoba and Canada due to the value of the loonie, high feed costs and low returns on hogs.

However, hog farmers provincewide still campaigned hard against the moratorium, which the Manitoba Pork Council said affected two-thirds of the province’s hog farmers.

In his biography on his website, Struthers is quoted as saying building on an agricultural base represents the future of Manitoba’s northwestern Parkland region. Its success, he said, “depends on creating value-added jobs in agriculture and opportunities for our youth.”

Congratulating Struthers on his appointment, Ian Wishart, president of Manitoba’s general farm organization Keystone Agricultural Producers, said Tuesday that it’s “a critical time for government and producers to work together and we look forward to meeting with Minister Struthers on many issues.”

KAP added that it “welcomes continued collaboration with the province on agricultural policies and programs.”

Selinger on Tuesday replaced Struthers in the conservation portfolio with Elmwood’s Bill Blaikie, a United Church minister and first-time MLA who served as one of the city’s NDP members of Parliament from 1979 to 2008. Blaikie will also serve as the provincial NDP’s government house leader.

Wowchuk, who also served as Doer’s deputy premier, is now one of two deputy premiers for Selinger, along with Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Minister Eric Robinson, MLA for the northern Rupertsland riding.

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