Senator and former agriculture minister Eugene Whelan in July, 2004. (QMI Agency, file)
CHATHAM, Ont. — Former longtime federal agriculture minister Eugene Whelan, known for his folksy-farmer persona and Irish-green Stetson, died Tuesday night from complications from a stroke.
He was 88 years old.
Whelan died at his home in his native Amherstburg, Ont., where he served as Liberal member of Parliament for Essex-Windsor from 1962 to 1984.
Whelan served as agriculture minister from 1972 through 1984, except for nine months in 1979-80 when the Conservatives formed the government.
He was appointed by the Senate in 1996 by then-prime minister Jean Chretien, a former cabinet colleague.
Former MP Ralph Ferguson of Watford, Ont., said his long-time friend was “fair with everyone and very well liked by everyone on Parliament Hill.”
In a release, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz praised Whelan as a strong voice for farmers.
“Eugene was planted firmly on the side of farmers,” he said. “His more than 12 years as agriculture minister serve as a clear testament to the passion and dedication he brought to the job every day.”
Whelan’s father, a farmer and municipal politician, died when he was six and the family lost the farm and struggled through the Great Depression.
He spent some time as a tool-and-die maker before returning to farming. At 21 he was a surprise winner of a school board election and went on to become reeve and warden of Essex County before entering Parliament.
Whelan would rail at “spoiled” Canadians who complained about food costs, claiming that only a fraction of the store price reached farmers’ pockets.