Keith Currie is no shrinking violet and although he is stepping back from the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA), his advocacy for agriculture will continue.
During his tenure as an OFA board member and president, Currie said he made it a personal mission to bring the agricultural lens to every committee, political and board table to which he’s spoken.
“You have to be prepared to have your mind changed and look at the bigger picture,” he said, adding that can be a challenge in the agriculture sector where passion can cloud issues.
Why it matters: The retirement of three OFA board members means loss of much experience but it will provide fresh ideas to the board of directors.
For Currie, the bigger picture included partnering with the Ontario Chamber of Commerce and Ontario Tourism, two organizations not generally viewed as agricultural but hold a lot of sway in rural communities.
All three retiring board members — Currie, Brent Royce and Rejean Pommainville — said member involvement is essential, whether on the county or provincial level, because it provides an opportunity to influence the industry.
Currie said he’s confident his acclaimed successor, Pierre Paul Maurice, will bring a unique set of skills to the board table, including his bilingualism.
Of the OFA’s five provincial zone director elections, three were acclaimed including Maurice, Tracey Arts in Zone 4 (Oxford Elgin) and Mark Reusser for Zone 9 (Dufferin, Waterloo, Wellington.)
Julie Danen, Erica Murray and Ethan Wallace are campaigning to replace Royce in Zone 7 (Huron Perth), and M. Eleanor McGrath and Vanessa Renaud are vying for Pommainville’s Zone 14 (Stormont, Glengarry, Prescott and Russell). Voting for the two board positions opened Aug. 16 and will close Sept. 10.
Videos of the candidates can be found on the OFA website under Zone Election.
Royce said board activities flowed well through the pandemic, providing newer members with an excellent example of an effective board.
“Getting on the provincial board is a steep learning curve to start with, but you throw in going completely virtual and trying to figure it all out,” he said. “That made everything amplified.”
Currie was instrumental in pushing the needs of the agriculture sector to the forefront, including the need for vaccine access by essential workers and financial support from the provincial and federal governments, said Royce and Pommainville.
“The hours he put in when COVID first started is unbelievable. And the work he did guiding the organization and agriculture through all that was – you just don’t know,” said Royce. “It was a hell of a commitment.”
Currie lost the election for president of the OFA at the organization’s annual meeting earlier this year. Long-time vice-president Peggy Brekveld was elected president.
Currie said he is proud of many accomplishments during his time on the board. However, getting Ontario agriculture’s food supply chain recognized for its critical role during COVID and as a part of the post-pandemic economic recovery ranks high.
Another is the implementation of farm-based trespassing legislation to protect farmers and livestock.
“If you were to go back and look at all the announcements that happened last year, there was a heck of a lot,” Currie said. “And I’m pretty proud of what we delivered for a response during that time.”
He declined offers to run at the local and provincial government level, saying he preferred to focus on his role as first vice-president with the Canadian Federation of Agriculture following his departure from the OFA board.
But there is one government appointment that could entice him.
“A couple of Senate openings are coming up,” Currie said. “Would that be worthy of an application? It’s something I might pursue.”
Royce said board cohesion during the pandemic made him more confident about leaving the table and he is gratified that three qualified people are interested in filling his position.
“At some point (agriculture) is everybody’s future. At some point, it’s everybody’s present and eventually it will be my past, as a farmer in agriculture,” he said. “The ones that it’s their future are the ones that have the most to gain, and agriculture has the most to gain from.”
Royce said he is particularly proud of the Stray Voltage portfolio and strides in opening the lines of communication with Hydro One.
“It’s still not perfect, and it’s not finished yet,” he said. “But it is leaps and bounds ahead to where it was 10 years ago.”
Pommainville is credited with promoting bilingualism within the organization and securing a grant to translate several OFA fact sheets into French. He encouraged Francophone members to volunteer on local and provincial boards.
“I’ve met a lot of people that I would have never had the possibility to meet. That’s on a personal scale. But I’ve seen a lot of production.
“I’ve seen all kinds of manufacturing, the transformation of food products, visited a lot of farm operations, and it was great.”
He encouraged people to attend a local meeting and volunteer a few hours a month or a few days a year.
“We all have qualities and expertise in different fields,” Pommainville said. “There is a lot of knowledge and experience around the table at the OFA, even with members with a lot of years leaving.”