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N.L. names new minister for agrifoods

A St. John’s criminal lawyer who has since served as Newfoundland and Labrador’s health and finance minister is now in charge of the province’s agricultural policy.

Jerome Kennedy, the MHA for Carbonear-Habour Grace, was sworn in Friday as the province’s new minister of natural resources, government house leader and minister responsible for the province’s Forestry and Agrifoods Agency.

Kennedy, whose riding includes the communities of Carbonear and Harbour Grace on the west side of Conception Bay, was first elected in 2007 and named then-premier Danny Williams’ finance minister the following year. Williams shuffled Kennedy to the health and community services file in 2009.

Premier Kathy Dunderdale, who had handled the agrifoods file in Williams’ cabinet, on Friday also reduced her cabinet from 19 to 16 members through departmental mergers.

Notable among those from a farming perspective is a new department of innovation, business and rural development, combining the former innovation, trade and rural development department with the department of business.

Ferryland MHA Keith Hutchings, who before this month’s election served as Kennedy’s parliamentary secretary for health and community services, will be the minister for the new department, which includes responsibility for the province’s Rural Secretariat.

Hutchings, first elected to the assembly in 2007, previously worked with the province’s Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission and as opposition chief of staff in the assembly (1996-98).

The merger, Dunderdale said, is meant to integrate all business and economic development programs under a single banner and “build on the successes of the two preceding departments.”

Agriculture and agrifoods directly or indirectly employ about 4,000 people in the province, with farmgate production valued at $111 million in 2008 and agrifood processing valued at $501 million.

The province notes that farm production has grown in value in 27 of the past 30 years, led by the dairy industry, with expansion seen both on farms and in processing.

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