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politics


He’s green, but eager


Province’s newest agricultureminister expecting to learn quickly.


By Judie Steeves H


e may be the sixth B.C. agriculture minister in the past three years, but Don McRae says he would like to stay in the post for a good, long time.


A high school teacher for 15 years, and city councillor in Comox for three, McRae says his whole life has been a steep learning curve.


So, learning about the commercial agriculture industry will be something he won’t have difficulty with, he says. It was quite rural growing up in the Comox Valley during the 1970s and many of McRae’s buddies had farms, although he just lived on an acre of land where he had chickens as a kid, and where his folks had a large garden, he related.


Agriculture, he feels, is of huge importance to all of B.C.


While stability in the portfolio is important, he noted that he can only serve at the pleasure of the premier. There are others in caucus with agricultural backgrounds and they are helpful in providing him with the support he needs, he said. “I want to make agriculture grow. That doesn’t mean I need to be an experienced farmer. I want to do a good job,” commented McRae.


Being named agriculture minister was a surprise to him, he said. It wasn’t a post he’d asked for.


However, while he was a member of city council, part of the economic development strategy was to sell the valley by marketing agriculture, both to tourists and to potential new residents. Comox has the most successful farmers’ market on the Island, and


restaurants celebrate the use of local products, he says.


McRae plans to meet with major grocery stores for guidance about implementation of a program encouraging the purchase of food grown as close to home as possible. However, he added, it’s important not to out-think the consumer.


JUDIE STEEVES


Don McRae, appointed this spring to his first provincial cabinet post.


His staff has been asked to look at what the ministry can do to support farmers, perhaps by bringing the farmer/producer into the store to show off the local products produced, like in the farmers’ markets, he suggested. Asked about the possibility of a policy of purchasing local food for government institutions such as hospitals, McRae said he’d never considered that, but if it costs more, that factor would have to be considered.


He said that within the first month in office, he’d already met with the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association, the B.C. Agriculture Council, farmers’ institutes and fish farmers, listening and learning. One of the most important tasks faced by his ministry will be dealing with the review of the Agricultural Land Commission completed late last fall by commission chair Richard Bullock.


However, McRae said much has happened since then in government, so no major decisions have been made in that time.


Now, he said, he’s looking forward to getting that report to his cabinet colleagues and to the public in the near future after that.


All he would say about the report is that it is a good report and that he’s pleased with the recommendations. “I want all farmers to realize I want to work with them on the challenges facing the industry,” he commented, adding, “Even the Canadian dollar affects the economics of farming, and climate change will also have impacts.” Innovative, value-added work helps to expand new markets and bring new opportunities to industry, he said. The health benefits of local products such as berries are incredibly important, he said, and people are realizing they are tops in taste and nutrition.


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British Columbia Berry Grower • Summer 2011 17


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