Alberta, Meet Your New Ag Minister: An Interview With Oneil Carlier

Oneil Carlier, Minister of Agriculture and Forestry during the swearing-in ceremony of the 17th Premier of Alberta Rachel Notley and her cabinet at the Alberta Legislature in Edmonton May 24, 2015. (Government of Alberta)

Big changes are underway inside the Alberta Legislature in Edmonton, but the province’s new NDP agriculture minister says he doesn’t foresee any major shifts in Alberta’s agriculture policies.

Oneil Carlier

Oneil Carlier

Oneil Carlier grew up on a family farm near Val Marie, Saskatchewan, a fourth-generation beef and grain operation now run by his brother. As a teen, he got a job working for Agriculture Canada’s Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration, and he ended up working for the PFRA for 20 years as a geotechnical technician, mainly overseeing irrigation construction projects.

While with Ag Canada, he became involved union affairs, and in 2002, Carlier moved to Alberta to become a regional representative for the Public Service Alliance of Canada. He let his name stand as the NDP candidate for Whitecourt-Ste. Anne in the provincial election earlier this month and on May 24th he was tapped by Premier Rachel Notley to be Alberta’s 27th Minister of Agriculture (as well as Minister of Forestry, which means he’s been thrown into the thick of things with the wildfires in northern Alberta.)

“I was hoping for this portfolio and I’m very happy that I’ve got it,” Carlier tells RealAgriculture’s Shaun Haney in the interview below.

He admits he faces a steep learning curve, as he meets with industry and department staff over the next few weeks.

“Someone said it’s going to be like Mount Everest. I’m not sure if it’s Mount Everest or not, perhaps something closer to home in Jasper National Park,” jokes Carlier. “The next 90 days is going to be a lot of that, talking to stakeholders, farmers from northern Alberta to southern Alberta and being involved in the farm fairs, the social events and meeting folks that way. And of course (I’ll be) talking to people within the department, the subject matter experts, and learning as much as I can.”

Carlier suggests he’s not looking to make major changes within his department: “I think it will be staying intact. We have a really good staff.”

So how will his union background influence his approach as ag minister? Carlier says working for PSAC helped him develop skills needed “to moderate and come to solutions,” which he says is “a skillset that I think translates to this position quite well.”

He also indicates changes to farm unionization policy and labour standards are “not a focus for us at this time.”

“Making sure we have market access, making sure we have transportation infrastructure in place to move product to the markets, those are continually challenges and things I’ll work on with stakeholders in both industries to make sure we continue growing agriculture and forestry,” says Carlier.

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