NDP names Niagara-area MP as ag critic

The federal New Democrats will head into their first-ever round as official Opposition next month with their former deputy agriculture critic in the lead ag critic’s chair.

Malcolm Allen, the MP for the Niagara-region riding of Welland since 2008, was named Thursday as the party’s agriculture critic, replacing Castlegar, B.C.-area MP Alex Atamanenko.

Atamanenko, now dropped from the NDP’s shadow cabinet, had been the party’s critic on the agriculture and agri-food file since he was first elected in 2006, and initially also served as the critic on the Canadian Wheat Board file.

An electrician by trade, Allen had served on the executive board of the Canadian Auto Workers Local 199 and as deputy mayor of Pelham, Ont. before entering federal politics.

Allen, who turns 58 on Monday, was born in Glasgow, Scotland but has lived in the Niagara region since 1963 and studied history and political science at Brock University in St. Catharines.

He was named the NDP’s deputy critic for agriculture and food security and its lead critic for skills, training and apprenticeships in November 2008, and in January this year was named the party’s caucus chair. In 2009 he also served on the food safety subcommittee of the Commons standing committee on agriculture and agri-food.

In a release Thursday, Allen said he has developed relationships with farm and agricultural associations and groups over the years and aims to strengthen those in the coming Parliamentary session.

Manitoba MP Pat Martin, whose inner-city riding of Winnipeg Centre includes the CWB’s Main Street headquarters, was named lead critic on the Canadian Wheat Board. The CWB, the single-desk marketing agency for Prairie wheat and barley, has been targeted by the Conservatives for deregulation.

Martin, a carpenter by profession, has represented the riding since 1997 and served as the NDP’s deputy agriculture critic on the CWB file since late 2007.

Having served in various shadow roles since 1998, Martin had been the party’s lead critic on the public works and government services, Crown corporations and Treasury Board portfolios, and deputy critic on energy retrofits, from 2008 up until this month’s election.

Among other shadow posts of interest to farmers, NDP leader Jack Layton on Thursday named Dartmouth, N.S. MP Robert Chisholm as international trade critic, Ottawa MP Paul Dewar as foreign affairs critic, Vancouver MP Libby Davies as health critic and Toronto MP Olivia Chow as transport, infrastructure and communities critic.

Nycole Turmel, the Quebec MP for Hull-Aylmer, takes over from Allen as national caucus chair.

CORRECTION, May 27: Citing the Parliament of Canada’s website, a previous version of this article stated Alex Atamanenko was the NDP’s critic on the Canadian Wheat Board file, as well as on agriculture, up until this election. Pat Martin was named deputy agriculture critic (Canadian Wheat Board) in 2007, in fact assuming critic responsibilities for the CWB.

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