MEET THE MINISTER
BY IAN DOIG
Elected April 16, 2019, the United Conservative Party’s Devin Dreeshen was sworn in on April 30 as MLA for Innisfail–Sylvan Lake. A Pine Lake area farmer whose family grows wheat, barley, canola and peas, he was first elected as MLA for the riding in the July 12, 2018, byelection to replace Don MacIntyre. Following his win, he was appointed Alberta’s minister of agriculture and forestry. GrainsWest spoke with Dreeshen this past September. The following has been edited for length and clarity.
GrainsWest: How much did your father, Red Deer–Mountainview MP Earl Dreeshen, and your farming background influence your decision to get into politics?
Devin Dreeshen: My family has always been involved in the community and … politically both provincially and federally. The farming background really helps ground a person. [You] can talk to any type of farmer and just get the salt of the earth, normal way of thinking, [which] goes a long way in politics.
GW: What’s your favourite job on the farm?
DD: Seeding is always nice where you’re going out early in the spring and everything is brilliant bright green, and it’s the hope for the year. But at harvest time, it’s swather, trucker guy.
GW: What did you learn about agricultural policy-making in working as an advisor to former federal agriculture minister Gerry Ritz?
DD: It was getting rid of the Canadian Wheat Board monopoly. As a kid that grew up on a grain farm … it was a pretty remarkable journey. What I learned from Gerry Ritz was leadership and taking something from start to finish. Advice that he gave me was make sure you follow through on your commitments.
GW: How will your government’s focus on agriculture contrast with that of the previous government?
DD: It helps that we have 20-plus MLAs from rural Alberta that have farming backgrounds and have constituents that talk to them. We are a team of 63 great MLAs, but getting that constant feedback … will make our government a night-and-day comparison to the previous NDP government [and] the huge disconnect they had from the ag community.
GW: What did you learn from farmers during provincewide consultations on the repeal of Bill 6 and the introduction of the Farm Freedom and Safety Act (FFSA)?
DD: The reoccurring themes that did come up were choice of insurance. The previous government had mandatory WCB coverage where lots of farms had private insurance. They ended up paying two insurance premiums.
The biggest concern with Bill 6 is it’s not practical. Farmers couldn’t be in compliance with it. The big takeaway I got through the consultations was … farmers want a safe work environment. Building on education and awareness—that’s more common sense and something farmers could be in compliance with.
GW: What should the federal government do to aid the international trade situation?
DD: [The 2019 federal election] is coming up, so I hope afterwards there will be a renewed focus on market access and trade because … they’re having trade missions that are a laughing stock. It’s something that hurts our export-dependent industries such as agriculture. I hope that whomever the new government is, has a strong focus on market access.
[It is] something that we’re going to be promoting as much as we can to make sure Alberta producers are able to get high prices for their high-quality products.
GW: What advice would you give to other young farmers interested in pursuing political careers?
DD: Get involved, put in the time. Whatever your political stripe, go to your local campaign office and get involved.
GW: How are you feeling about being minister now that you’ve had time to settle into the job?
DD: I’m deeply humbled and honoured to be minister of agriculture and forestry. We’ve been going full bore, working as hard as we can, because we know the expectations are high in the farming community. I don’t want to let the farming or the forestry community down. I want to be able to work with both sectors to make sure we can fix the errors of the past but also come up with new, innovative ways to reduce red tape and get these important sectors of our economy rolling again.