Merv Tweed has a new job on Parliament Hill, taking over as chairman of the agriculture and agri-food House of Commons standing committee on Tuesday.
Tweed, the Conservative MP for Brandon-Souris, had been the chairman of the Transport, Infrastructure and Communities committee until recently. He will now head the committee that debates bills, and focuses on expenses and activities for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the Canadian Grain Commission, the Farm Products Council of Canada, the Canadian Dairy Commission and Farm Credit Canada. The committee also deals with activities of the Canadian Wheat Board and the Pest Management Regulatory Agency.
"I think it will be great and a new challenge with the area I live in and the importance of agriculture to that area," Tweed said. "It doesn’t necessarily give me an inside track, but it gives me more opportunities to have input from my producers from my farming communities. Hopefully we can influence some policies."
Tweed said farmers in Brandon-Souris and western Manitoba feel free to call him about issues they face and as he’s receiving that information, he’s able to relate it to issues the department staff will brief him on in the coming days.
Tweed’s only regret about the move is leaving the transport committee, because he enjoyed the work and dealing with his fellow committee members. However, he noted there are some crossover issues related to transportation and agriculture.
"Agriculture isn’t just producing, but is about preparing and shipping products to market," Tweed said. "I’ve already spoken to some people at CN today and they have some rail service issues and they don’t want to lose my input into that outcome. I’m looking forward to that. You work hard to establish relationships and this is another step in making that all work."
Manitoba Agriculture Minister Ron Kostyshyn offered his congratulations to Tweed on his election as Agriculture committee chairman.
"We enjoy a close working relationship with the federal government on the agriculture file and this can only get stronger now that Merv is chairing the agriculture committee," Kostyshyn said in an email. "I look forward to working with Merv on issues of importance to Manitoba producers and to continue building a strong agriculture industry in this province."
Agriculture groups also welcomed having an MP they know in a key position for western Canadians. Keystone Agricultural Producers vice-president Weldon Newton said there is an advantage for them because Tweed comes from a farming community and understands their issues.
"Who knows? That may be of use in the coming year," said Newton, a Neepawa-area farmer. "He’s known to a lot of producers here and that has to be beneficial."
Newton said KAP has worked well with Tweed in the past and looks forward to working with him in his new role as farmers face challenges related to income supports.
"We still have the discussions about where the safety nets are going down the road," Newton said. "It appears they want to curtail our financial safety nets that have been in place for agriculture and we haven’t seen the full details on where those are going yet. It certainly appears there will be less of a commitment from the federal government to support agriculture, not if, but when it gets into difficulties in various sectors. That’s a concern for us."
Manitoba Pork chairman Karl Kynoch said the challenges pork producers and processors face remain large. There are several thousand jobs with direct ties to the pork industry within a 90-minute radius of Brandon, and having the local MP chair a key House of Commons committee will ensure the industry’s issues get a fair hearing, Kynoch said.
"When you have a local guy in there and he’s having events nearby, there’s more of a chance to talk to him, and it’s nice to have your local MP recognized as a senior guy at the table," Kynoch, a Baldur-area farmer, said.
"At the end of the day, they all know what’s going on and we have been in contact with them all, federally and provincially, to keep them up to speed on how serious the crisis is for the hog industry. The more access you have to influential people, the stronger your message can be taken forward.
"It should help when the chair of Manitoba Pork lives in the riding of the Agricultural chair."
Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette Conservative MP Bob Sopuck was not affected by the committee membership shuffle and remains on the fisheries and oceans and the environment and sustainable development committees.