New B.C. ag minister, ag critic named

British Columbia’s government and official opposition have each named new handlers to the province’s agriculture and lands portfolio.

Premier Gordon Campbell on Wednesday dropped the incumbent ag minister, Nanaimo MLA Ron Cantelon, from an expanded 24-member cabinet and replaced him with neophyte Kelowna-Mission MLA Steve Thomson.

Thomson, the co-owner of communications and PR firm Greenaway Thomson Communications, is also a partner in the family’s farm, which was established in the Kelowna area in 1896.

Sent to the legislature for the first time in last month’s provincial election, Thomson’s resume is nevertheless thick in agriculture policy. He’s credited with leading the process to establish the B.C. Agriculture Council, for which he served as executive director for 11 years, “negotiating policy and establishing programs with local, provincial and national levels of government.”

Thomson is also credited with spearheading development of the B.C. Agriculture Research and Development Corp. (ARDCORP), which provides services and program delivery for farmers. He also previously served as general manager of the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association and the B.C. Milk Producers Association.

He was also a founding director of the B.C. Bio-Energy Network, which manages a $25 million fund to support alternative energy and bio-energy work. He was also on the first board of directors for the Okanagan Innovation Fund, a private equity fund to support emerging Okanagan businesses.

At the local level, Thomson has previously served as president of the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce and chair of the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, through which he also sat on provincial government task forces focused on “red tape reduction” and small business development. He also played on Canada’s national rugby team.

In B.C., the agriculture and lands portfolio includes responsibility for agriculture, aquaculture and food industry development; animal health and crop protection; food safety and quality; commercial fisheries and fish processing; aquaculture licensing and regulation; allocation of Crown land; soil management, weed control and crop insurance.

Also in the portfolio is responsibility for the Agricultural Land Commission, B.C. Farm Industry Review Board, B.C. Wine Institute and the
Muskwa Kechika Advisory Board, which advises government on management of the far-north-central Muskwa Kechika wilderness area.

Equally new

Following the May 12 election, the provincial NDP found itself in need of a new agriculture and lands critic, after Charlie Wyse was defeated in his Cariboo-Chilcotin riding.

(A previous report stating Wyse won his seat by 23 votes was based on preliminary numbers from Elections BC. According to the agency’s official count as of June 5, Wyse lost the seat to the Liberals’ Donna Barnett by 88 votes.)

NDP leader Carole James on Thursday chose an equally new MLA, Saanich South MLA Lana Popham, to handle the ag and lands critic file.

Popham, born in Regina and raised on Quadra Island, owns and operates Barking Dog Vineyard, the first certified organic vineyard on Vancouver Island, with her family.

Her resume includes stints as president of the Vancouver Island Grape Growers Association, chair of the certification committee for the Islands Organic Producers Association, a commissioner on the Peninsula Agricultural Commission and a voting member of the Agri-Food Initiative Advisory Committee.

Popham also was among those spearheading opposition to the Liberal government’s plans to reclassify certain B.C. farm properties for municipal tax purposes. The ensuing controversy, especially at Saanich, led the province in February to set up its Farm Assessment Review Panel.

The panel in June 2008 made a few interim recommendations, including suspension of any further large-scale farm classification projects by BC Assessment until after the panel’s report is received, expected at the end of July 2009, and decisions are made.

Other portfolios

Among other farming-related portfolios, Campbell on Wednesday named his former tourism minister, Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett, to handle the community and rural development file. Pat Bell, the MLA for Prince George and a former ag minister, remains in the forests and range portfolio.

James on Thursday named Alberni MLA Scott Fraser as the community and rural development critic, while Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA Norm Macdonald will be critic for forests and range and integrated land management. Cowichan Valley MLA Bill Routley will back up Macdonald as deputy critic.

Campbell on Wednesday also announced appointments in the province’s senior civil service, including Larry Pedersen as deputy minister of agriculture and lands, Dana Hayden as deputy minister of forests and range, and Dale Wall as deputy minister for community and rural development. Steve Carr was also appointed as president and CEO of the province’s Integrated Land Management Bureau.

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