OTTAWA — Canadian Federation of Agriculture delegates made history last week when they elected the first female president in the organization’s 84-year history.
Mary Robinson, from Prince Edward Island, defeated Norm Hall from Saskatchewan in the election to replace Ron Bonnett, who retired after nine years at the helm and more than 20 years at the CFA table.
Long-time second vice-president Marcel Groleau from Quebec also did not run again, leading to elections for both vice-presidents.
The result is an entirely new executive heading into lobbying efforts during this year’s federal election campaign.
Keith Currie from the Ontario Federation of Agriculture is now first vice-president and Chris van den Heuvel from the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture is second vice-president.
Robinson said she was confident in the new executive to represent all regions of Canada.
“I’ve spoken with lots of producers … and they have each made it very clear to me that they made their vote based on people not based on geography,” she said in an interview. “We know that across this country a rising tide lifts all boats and if we don’t have success in the West we don’t have success in Canada.”
CFA had already been reaching out to more organizations in a bid to broaden the membership of the country’s largest farm group.
These include Grain Growers of Canada, the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association and the Canadian Pork Council.
Robinson said the CFA has positioned itself as a respected professional voice and broadening the base is vital to continue to gain momentum.
She pledged to seek alliances across primary agriculture and through the value chain.
“We need everyone at the table to do our best work together,” she said.
Robinson has a degree in economics and business, and is a managing partner of a sixth-generation family farm, Eric C. Robinson Inc., and its sister company Island Lime. The business also includes PEI Agromart and Mid-Isle Farms.
Together, the businesses produce and pack potatoes, supply inputs and offer marketing services.
The farm itself includes 2,200 acres planted to forage, barley and soybeans. Earlier this year, the company announced it would lease out its potato facilities.
Robinson has long been involved in agricultural politics. She was on the board of the P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture for several years and served as president from 2015-17.
She is board chair of the Canadian Agricultural Human Resources Council, and is also on the board of the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity.
In 2015, she was tapped to serve on Agriculture Canada’s National Program Advisory Council for two years. She was on the external panel for the business risk management program review. She also serves on the sustainable development advisory committee for the federal environment minister.
She told the CFA delegates she had the support of her husband, a stay-at-home dad, and their two children in her CFA bid.
“Who wouldn’t want to be president?” she said when asked why she wanted to add the demanding job to her list. “The opportunity to build relationships and to bring people together and broaden the tent and have a more cohesive approach to influencing ag policy is very exciting.”
Robinson said the first order of business is to organize for the fall election. CFA will launch its Producing Prosperity election campaign lobby in April.
“It’s an opportunity for us to re-emphasize the points made in the Barton report and how government has a real opportunity here to invest in agriculture and rural Canada and really tap into us as the main economic engine for Canada,” she said.
Other issues requiring careful attention include labour shortages, eroding public trust, climate change, carbon pricing and competitiveness, trade agreements and transportation policy, she said.
Meanwhile, outgoing president Bonnett said he was confident he was leaving the organization in good hands.
“It’s been a real ride,” he said of his decades of involvement in local, provincial, national and international ag politics.
“Tomorrow you start a new era,” he said as he closed the annual meeting. “I’m confident we’re going to see CFA move to new heights.”