Saskatchewan farmer named lieutenant-governor

OTTAWA – Jack Wiebe was still in bed at his Herbert, Sask.-area farm last Friday morning when he received one of the most exciting telephone calls of his life.

“This is the prime minister’s office calling from Ottawa. The prime minister would like to speak to you.”

Wiebe was about to be told he will be Saskatchewan’s new lieutenant-governor, the first farmer to hold the position in almost half a century.

“The prime minister mentioned that when we chatted,” Wiebe recalled several hours later.

He said he was still buzzing from the news.

“I knew my name was on a list being considered but you never expect to get the call. I absorbed the news and then called my family.”

Wiebe, 58, said the operation of his 2,240-acre grain farm (durum and malting barley) in southwest Saskatchewan will be turned over to his daughter and son-in-law, Jackie and Stuart Peters.

He and the federal government played up the farmer angle in one of Canada’s most agriculturally-dependent provinces.

“He’s a farmer and that’s the story there,” a prime minister’s office official said Friday afternoon.

Wiebe said he will use the largely-ceremonial office of Queen’s representative in Saskatchewan to promote agriculture whenever possible.

In agricultural politics, the new lieutenant-governor has covered the spectrum. He has been a member of the Main Center Saskatchewan Wheat Pool committee, the Herbert credit union and co-op, the Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association and the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association.

“I think this appointment recognizes that the prime minister has made a commitment toward agriculture,” said Wiebe.

It is also a highly partisan appointment to what is supposed to be a non-partisan position. For a quarter century, Wiebe has been at the centre of Sask-atchewan Liberal politics.

He served as a Liberal MLA from Morse constituency from 1971-78, ran unsuccessfully for the federal Liberals in 1984 and ran the Liberal campaign in Saskatchewan in last autumn’s election.

He was nominated for the lieutenant-governor position by agriculture minister Ralph Goodale.

“I wasn’t surprised,” said former Swift Current-Maple Creek Conservative MP Geoff Wilson, who defeated Wiebe in 1984. “He is a Liberal who has paid his dues through good times and bad. He was a good provincial member and I have no reason to doubt he will be a good lieutenant-governor. He’s a folksy kind of guy.”

His delighted friends last week offered the same assessment.

“He’s a real down-to-earth, campfire, natural kind of person,” said Linda Clifford, a former Liberal MLA and now an aide on Parliament Hill.

“I’ve dealt with 20 (political) leaders across Canada since 1971 and he is the finest man I’ve ever dealt with. I really mean that,” said Liberal organizer Barb MacNiven of Delisle, Sask., who was once executive director of the Saskatchewan Liberal Party and has been a Canada-wide campaign organizer for 25 years.

Wiebe replaces Sylvia Fedoruk.

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