By Tim Kalinowski
Saskatchewan agriculture minister Lyle Stewart hung up his cabinet spurs for perhaps the last time in mid-August to focus on his own fight with colorectal cancer. The well-liked Stewart had served as agriculture minister since 2012, and said he would love to have stayed and continued the job if it had been at all possible.
“If I had my choice of any job in the world, I would pick this one,” Stewart told Ag-Matters in a phone interview on Aug. 17. “It is far from the highest paying one in the world, but I love the job and the relationships I have had with our stakeholders in the province and across the country.”
Stewart said respect was the key to having a successful relationship with the farmers and ag. groups he dealt with while in cabinet.
“We didn’t always agree all the time on everything, but I always engaged them,” he said. “And when decisions were made they weren’t 100 per cent in support of, at least knew they were part of the process and their interests were foremost. I think that relationship is what I am most proud of.”
Stewart tackled some challenging issues during his tenure, but feels strongly he achieved positive results to improve his province’s agriculture sector.
“I am happy with a lot of the things we were able to accomplish,” he confirmed. “I think when the federal government decided to turn the former PFRA pastures over to us, I think we came up with the best model of the three western provinces to operate them. It has turned out to be successful, and now we are applying the same rules to our former provincial pasture program.
“But I can tell you that was not an easy sell at first,” he adds with a chuckle; “at least until the patron groups got some experience under their belts at running them. And now I think everybody’s reasonably satisfied. That was a bit uphill and against the wind at the start, but I think it was the right way to go.”
According to Stewart, provincial meat inspection and livestock insurance are two other areas where he can mark down satisfying achievements and good results as ag. minister.
“We were forced to take over provincial meat inspection from the CFIA, and I think that went seamlessly,” he stated. “We were also instrumental in expanding a program that was originally an Alberta program, Livestock Price Insurance, across western Canada with lots of co-operation from the Alberta government, and we are very appreciative of that.
“We have also done a lot of work to expand our markets and protect them around the world.”
Stewart said he wishes his cancer had not returned to take him out of the job while so much remains uncertain in the world food market at the moment. He said if he had his choice he would love to remain and steer the ship through these chaotic eddies toward a more stable future for Canadian agriculture, but, alas, it was not meant to be.
“There is a worldwide movement of protectionism. There has always been a lot of countries that lean that way anyway, but now with the U.S. jumping on board it legitimizes it for everybody. And now we have market troubles with India, market troubles with Italy, and of course the U.S. themselves. It is a very unhealthy situation.
“I have been sort of a student of these trends for a long time. The pendulum always swings way farther than it should, and so I am afraid we are going to be in some tougher times for trade before it starts to correct itself again.”
While he is stepping down from cabinet, Stewart intends to remain as the sitting MLA for Lumsden-Morse until at least the next election as he undergoes treatment.
He also intends to keep working as much as he can on his family farm.
“I have always been involved in agriculture,” said Stewart. “I was born and raised on the farm … Since I was a pre-teen, I have done a fair amount of farm work, and I continue to still help run the family farm here. My son is boss now, but I love the industry and I have grown to have a great appreciation and respect for all the industry stakeholders, particularly those active in our farm groups in this province. They are incredible people.”
Stewart is grateful for all the well-wishes he has received since announcing his retirement as agriculture minister, and said he wouldn’t have exchanged his time in the role for anything.
“I have really loved the job, and I would still rather be the agriculture minister than the former one,” he said. “But I know this is going to be a more protracted (cancer) fight. I don’t want to do a half job. I have a reputation of working hard at this and I’d like that to remain intact.”