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June1997 Column, Country Life in B.C.
Wendy R. Holm, P.Ag.
I didn’t make it to Wayne Wicken’s farewell dinner. Something of a “pressing and urgent nature” (somuch so I can’t now recall what it was) caused me to be unable to leave Bowen that night to attend.
Only last week did I take down the “invite fax” from the board.
Wayne took early retirement rather than stomach the gruel being dished up by the Ministry in thename of public policy. Like the soup the chicken walked through, there was scant flavour remaining.
For those of you who missed it, go back to May’s Country Life and read “Wickens’ retirement closesera”. It’s right there on page 20, identically positioned one page following the “Steady rain upsetsmanure demo” piece. (Editors have such fun.)
That’s really it, though, isn’t it? Wayne, leading his brave and oh-so-capable band of hard-workingextension personnel, being thoroughly rained out by the last remaining bureaucrat in Victoria who,after all, has got to have SOMETHING to do.
It seems so long ago, but it was really only this fall, that we all waited for the bad news. It was like adeath watch. When Hackett went out and Seitz came it, the word “undertaker” fluttered across thelips of Agrologists like the sound of birds shaking their feathers in a night swamp. Sort of a muffledchain. Seitz was seen as the hatchet man, brought back from Ottawa with no background inagriculture and lots of smooth. Lorne knew the ax was falling. We all did. And, incredibly, wewaited in silence. As if, by holding our breath, we could delay the turning.
(Problem is, we all
know some we’d be better off without. You know the ones, the guys that standaround at industry meetings talking only to other suits during coffee breaks. We dared to hope.
Even in the face of Zirnhelt’s move to Forestry, we dared to hope. )
When the cuts were finally announced (just a few weeks before Christmas, as I recall) and theparticularly brutal decimation of the Ministry’s extension personnel evident, the first person I thoughtof was Wayne. I first came to know Wayne when I became active in my professional associationupon returning from Ottawa in 1983. Over the ensuing 10 years (until I moved to Bowen andbecame a hermit), Wayne and I shared many a table. As president and national councilor of BCIA, Isat with Wayne on Provincial Council for 4 years or more, attended five or six AIC conferences withhim and had the privilege of following in some of his (very formidable) footprints. During this time, Isaw first hand Wayne’s passion for extension education and his passion for agriculture. Heexpressed it through his passion for his profession. And did he ever express it.
“How can Wayne stay” I thought. I remember speaking these words out loud as I listened to thenews. And, of course, he couldn’t. “The end of an era” claimed the headline. And so it was.
The era actually started falling down about the ears of those who were paying attention some threedeputy minister’s ago, before Seitz and before Hackett. Way, way back to one Mr. GordonMcEachan. When I first went to Ottawa for an interview, I was given two reports McEachan hadsubmitted and asked to evaluate them. One was on Chicken prices. He had done some marginanalysis, taking today’s feed prices against today’s live weight prices. Margins were jumping all overthe place like so many fish on the floor. When you lagged the data, everything calmed down rightnicely. McEachan hadn’t noticed the error. I got the job. McEachan got the nod.
Imagine my surprise when I came back to this province some 9 years later to find him deputy minister.
Imagine the reaction of the province’s Agrologists when he told their incoming president, a seniorpublic servant, it was his job with the ministry or his term as president — he couldn’t do both. (Havingdeveloped a habit of eating, he demurred.)
If little else, McEachan was consistent; he proceeded to remove “Agrologist” designations from topechelon positions and surround himself with people of similar competence and stature (no, Wayne,that wasn’t a punny). British Columbia is still living that legacy. (Just before Hackett was appointed,McEachan left B.C. under a cloud of suspicion over travel account irregularities. Calling in somefavours, he displaced a well-beloved DM and took over the ag ministry in his home province of P.E.I.
Shortly thereafter, however, didn’t some pesky travel irregularities seem to crop up again. And so offMcEachan goes to organize the finances for some world potato conference. Can you say “oh,oh.?”
As you glance at the other headlines on your way to last month’s column on Wickens — headlineslike “hazelnut growers go for high density”, “Ginseng heading for B.C. top”, “ginseng growers prosper”and “seed potato grower caters to small operations” — remember that behind every successful cropin this province has very likely been a hard-working extension Agrologist out there making adifference. As opposed to making a career path. Or perhaps a career path of a different sort. Jobsatisfaction.
Now, the trick is going to be to get Wickens to do the odd guest column in this here publication. Youmade a difference to the field and a difference to the profession, Wayne. Don’t stop now.
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