Lone NDP farmer may get ag post

She is the only member of the newly elected NDP government to know what it’s like to make a living from the land.

And, if the word on the street is correct, she will be named agriculture minister, the first woman to hold the job on the Prairies.

Amid speculation of who would assume key roles in the Manitoba legislature, observers were sure of one name.

Rosann Wowchuk, a farmer from Cowan, Man., was thought to be a shoo-in for agriculture minister.

She is the only farmer elected to the NDP government, and was the party’s agriculture critic in opposition.

“I would hope that she would be the ag minister,” said Don Dewar, president of Keystone Agricultural Producers. “I have a lot of respect for Rosann.”

As opposition critic, Wowchuk kept in touch with KAP, often calling the organization to alert it to legislative matters and to offer help, said Dewar.

Marcel Hacault, chair of the Manitoba Pork Council, said Wowchuk is known for her willingness to listen to farmers and discuss issues.

She is aware of the challenges farmers face and is sympathetic, said Hacault. “She has a good grasp of what we go through every day to do our business.”

In an interview Sept. 22, Wowchuk downplayed her chances.

She said she would be open to any assignment NDP leader and incoming Manitoba premier Gary Doer chose to give her.

But there was no doubt in the mind of veteran NDP organizer and former agriculture minister Bill Uruski that Wowchuk would be named to the post.

“She’s a far better listener than I ever could be,” he said, explaining Wowchuk makes people feel relaxed and welcome around her, and does not jump to conclusions.

Political scientist Paul Thomas said Wowchuk, first elected in 1990, has been underestimated in previous election contests.

He noted she comes from a well-known political family, the Harapiaks. Her brother Harry held the northern seat of The Pas through the 1980s, and was minister of northern affairs and government services. Her brother Leonard, a teacher, held the Swan River seat for one term in the late 1980s. He was briefly agriculture minister in 1987 before the NDP was defeated in the 1988 election.

Wowchuk won the seat back for the NDP in 1990, and held on to it by 36 votes in the 1995 election.

Wowchuk, a longtime NDP organizer, used to be a teacher in the Swan River area, and a councilor and deputy reeve for a rural municipality.

She farms with her husband Sylvestor, with whom she raised three children.

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