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Quebec names new ag minister in shuffle

Quebec Premier Jean Charest has gone to the province’s western Abitibi region for his new minister of agriculture, food and fisheries.

Pierre Corbeil, a Val d’Or dentist, the MNA for Abitibi-East since 2003, and the province’s aboriginal affairs minister since late 2008, was named Thursday as Charest’s new ag minister, replacing Laurent Lessard.

Lessard, currently the province’s municipal affairs minister and a former ag minister (2007-09) had the ag file added to his duties again in September, when then-agriculture minister Claude Bechard lost a long bout with pancreatic cancer.

Bechard’s death led to the mini-shuffle that month, followed by Thursday’s “adjustments” in ministerial duties, Charest said in a release, noting “injections of new blood” at the cabinet table.

Corbeil, a dentist since 1978 and a former vice-president (2001-03) of the province’s dental surgeons’ association, entered politics at the local level as a municipal councilor in Val d’Or (1988-96, 2000-01). Charest in 2003 named the rookie MNA as minister for forests, wildlife and parks and shuffled him in 2005 to the natural resources ministry.

Corbeil briefly lost his cabinet post and seat in the assembly in the 2007 provincial election by a narrow margin against Parti Quebecois candidate Alexis Wawanoloath, who he then defeated by an even narrower margin 18 months later.

On his return, he was named to the aboriginal affairs file, and was reappointed as the minister responsible for the Abitibi-Temiscamingue and Nord-du-Quebec regions.

Corbeil’s home turf in the Abitibi-Temiscamingue region is considered mainly mining and forestry country, with about 10 per cent of its land base suitable for agriculture, supporting over 700 farmers as of 2009.

About 80 per cent of those farms are devoted to beef cattle and about 80 per cent of the region’s cropland devoted to forages, according to the province.

Montreal-area MNA Geoffrey Kelley will replace Corbeil in the aboriginal affairs portfolio. Also, Chateauguay MNA Pierre Moreau, the government whip since 2008, will pick up the intergovernmental affairs portfolio from Natural Resources Minister and Deputy Premier Nathalie Normandeau, who briefly took over the file from Bechard.

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