Candidate gives up farming to seek change-making role

This story is part of a series on farmers who are becoming directly involved in the Manitoba election.

PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE, Man. — It’s not hard to find Ian Wishart on a farm these days, as he is on this sunny morning in late March.

It’s just not his farm you’re likely to find him on between sun-up and sundown.

“It’s full time, plus about 10 percent,” said Wishart, a former potato, cattle, forage and crops producer from Portage La Prairie, where he is the Progressive Conservative MLA and seeking re-election in the provincial election.

“You can’t do this job plus any other job, especially including farming.”

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On this day, he was visiting a vegetable growing operation just east of Portage to talk about a host of concerns with the farmers, including the constant threat of flooding.

Wishart is an agriculture policy and farm group heavyweight, having previously been president of Keystone Agricultural Producers and a leader with potato and forage growers groups.

He left industry organizations behind in 2010 when he sought the PC nomination for Portage and later became the MLA in the 2011 election. He also found he couldn’t keep farming.

He had good farm help, which allowed the farm to keep running for a while, but when the help retired, he decided to sell the cattle and rent out the rest of his land.

“I didn’t want to train somebody new,” he said.

Now he lives on the farm but doesn’t get much time to sit on the tractor anymore.

“I’m a weekend farmer now.”

He’s kept busy with his role as the party’s family services critic as well as all the usual work of an MLA.

“I really do like the part of this job where you get to help individuals,” said Wishart, who had just met with a local farming family to talk about agricultural issues.

The PCs dominate rural Manitoba, winning most of the purely rural and small urban seats in the most previous elections.

However, the party has not held government since 1999 because of Winnipeg’s domination of the provincial population.

Still, the PCs received more votes in the last election than the NDP and hope to do better this time. The NDP is deeply unpopular, even in parts of Winnipeg, and the provincial Liberals are likely to siphon off left-centre votes.

Wishart has spent his off-farm career lobbying for farmers’ interests, and has spent his political career criticizing government actions and highlighting unmet needs of his constituents and Manitobans.

He’s hoping to actually be able to be in the change-making role for once after the election.

“We’re looking forward to forming government so we can really get some change done,” said Wishart.

Will he ever get back to farming? He’s 61 years old and “not getting any younger,” he said. He hopes to be an MLA for a few more years.

However, he has some farming “projects” in mind for his post-political career, whenever that comes. One is reviving a neglected apple orchard on the farm. At one time, Manitoba seemed like it might become another centre of apple production, and that’s a dream he’d like to help bring to reality.

“I think there’s potential for Manitoba to do some of that, and do some value-added,” he said.

However, the time for dreaming about that is not now. He’s got a campaign to run and after visiting this farm beside the Assiniboine River, he had a day of meetings and events to attend.

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