Only two familiar faces were expected to be on the House of Commons’ agriculture committee when it reconvened Feb. 3 to elect a new chair.
Former committee chair and Conservative MP Bev Shipley, a retired dairy farmer, and NDP agriculture critic Ruth Ellen Brosseau are the only returning committee members.
Their reappointment means there are eight new members on the committee, which is the epicentre for agricultural policy discussion on Parliament Hill.
There are 10 members on the committee: six Liberals, of whom one will likely be named chair, three Conservatives and one NDP.
Given the Liberals’ small rural caucus, there had been some quiet curiosity in recent weeks about who the party would choose to put on it.
There was some expectation that one of the handful of farmers in the Liberal caucus, including former agriculture critic Mark Eyking, a former produce farmer, and New Brunswick egg producer T.J. Harvey, would be named to the committee, given their connection to the industry.
Not the case. Neither one was named to the committee, despite speculation that Eyking stood a good chance of being named chair.
Instead, the Liberals have opted to put Eyking on the international trade committee, where he will face off against Conservative trade critic Gerry Ritz, the former minister of agriculture. For his part, Harvey has been named a member of both the natural resources and public accounts committees.
So, who did make it onto the agriculture committee?
On the government side, the Liberals have chosen two Maritime MPs (Alaina Lockhart and Pat Finnigan), two Ontario MPs (Lloyd Longfield and Francis Drouin), an MP from Quebec (Pierre Breton) and an MP from British Columbia (Joe Peschisolido).
Finnigan, an agrologist and self-described son of a farmer, appears to be the only one to have a background in agriculture.
Lockhart is a businessperson who has run her own bridal shop since 2004. While her grandparents were dairy farmers — an operation that has since been taken over by her uncle — Lockhart is not involved in the farm.
Lockhart admitted she faced a bit of a learning curve on the file but emphasized that agriculture issues such as succession planning and labour routinely came up during the election campaign. The heart of New Brunswick’s dairy industry is located in her riding.
Having a riding in a rural, agriculture dependent region appears to be a common thread among the Liberal membership. For instance, Drouin, a communications consultant, defeated former Conservative parliamentary secretary for agriculture Pierre Lemieux in the dairy-heavy riding of Glengarry-Prescott-Russell, located 45 minutes outside of Ottawa.
Meanwhile, Longfield, who works as a mechanical engineering technologist, hails from Guelph, Ont., one of the epicentres for farming and agricultural research in Canada.
It’s not the first time the Liberal MP from Guelph has been named to the committee. Before Eyking’s appointment as critic in 2013, the position had been held by now retired Guelph MP Frank Valeriote from 2011-13.
Breton, who represents the riding of Shefford, holds a degree in business administration, although his online biography also states he chaired the local Granby board of director’s zoology committee.
Peschisolido, who previously served as MP for Richmond in 2000, is a lawyer by trade and specializes in corporate, commercial, real estate and immigration law.
The Conservatives have also named new committee members, although their appointments are less of a surprise.
As expected, both Conservative agriculture critic Chris Warkentin, who grew on a family grain farm east of Grande Prairie, Alta, and deputy agriculture critic Jaques Gourde, a Quebec farmer and hay exporter, are both on the agriculture committee.
Warkentin is now the only prairie MP on the agriculture committee.
The committee was scheduled to meet Feb. 1 and Feb. 3.