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Eugene Whelan

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Eugene Whelan
Minister of Agriculture
In office
3 March 1980 – 29 June 1984
Prime MinisterPierre Trudeau
Preceded byJohn Wise
Succeeded byRalph Ferguson
In office
27 November 1972 – 3 June 1979
Prime MinisterPierre Trudeau
Preceded byBud Olson
Succeeded byJohn Wise
Senator for South Western Ontario
In office
9 August 1996 – 11 July 1999
Appointed byJean Chrétien
Member of Parliament
for Essex
(Essex—Windsor; 1972–1984)
In office
25 June 1968 – 3 September 1984
Preceded byRiding re-created
Succeeded bySteven Langdon
Member of Parliament
for Essex South
In office
18 June 1962 – 24 June 1968
Preceded byRichard Thrasher
Succeeded byRiding dissolved
Personal details
Eugene Francis Whelan

(1924-07-11)11 July 1924
Amherstburg, Ontario, Canada
Died19 February 2013(2013-02-19) (aged 88)
Amherstburg, Ontario, Canada
Resting placeSt. John the Baptist Cemetery, Amherstburg, Ontario, Canada
42°6′35.52″N 83°5′00.43″W / 42.1098667°N 83.0834528°W / 42.1098667; -83.0834528
Political partyLiberal
Elizabeth Pollinger
(m. 1960)
Children3, including Susan

Eugene Francis "Gene" Whelan PC OC CD PAg LLD (h.c.) (11 July 1924 – 19 February 2013) was a Canadian politician, sitting in the House of Commons from 1962 to 1984, and in the Senate from 1996 to 1999. He was also Minister of Agriculture under Pierre Trudeau from 1972 to 1984, and became one of Canada's best-known politicians.[1] During his career, he would meet Queen Elizabeth II, help Canada beat U.S. president Richard Nixon to the punch in "opening up" China, and play a catalyzing role in the fall of the Iron Curtain and the end of the Cold War.[2] In an editorial immediately following his death, the Windsor Star said:

He was folksy, flamboyant and colourful. He was the farmer in the iconic green Stetson. He was blunt and rough around the edges. At times he was the antithesis of all things politically correct.
And, while nobody said it in so many words, he was also the guy who made being minister of agriculture seem almost sexy. Perhaps that's because being in a Pierre Trudeau government was sexy in itself. Regardless, Whelan is likely the only MP to hold that post and have his name remembered because of it.[3]

Whelan was always known as a die hard Liberal. He loved to boast,

The Conservatives have the right wing, the NDP have the left wing. The Liberals have two wings and that's why we can fly.[4]

When he announced that he was running for the Liberal leadership in 1984, he said:

I don't think there is any politician that is as well known in the world as I am.[5]

Early years

Eugene Whelan was born in Amherstburg, Ontario,[6] the middle of nine children born to Irish-Canadian farmers Charles B. Whelan and Frances L. Kelly.[4][7] He was educated in Windsor and Walkerville. At 16, Whelan quit school and worked for a time as a welder and tool and die maker[4] before returning to farming.[8]

In 1960, Whelan married Elizabeth Pollinger and they had a family. One daughter went into politics (see Family below). His brother Edward Charles Whelan made his life in Saskatchewan. He also went into politics, being elected and serving in the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan.

Political career

Whelan (centre), pictured with fellow MPs Herb Gray and Paul Martin in 1962.

Whelan entered municipal politics at age 21[2] and surprisingly won an election to the separate school board of Anderdon Township,[8] which administered Catholic schools. He was next elected as councillor and eventually reeve of the township council,[6] becoming warden of the Essex County council in 1962.[9] He ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the Ontario assembly in 1959.

During that time, he supported himself as a farmer and became active in farm issues and groups. He became a director and president of the Harrow Farmer's Co-operative, served on the boards of United Co-operatives of Ontario and the Co-operators Insurance Company, and was a founding member of the Ontario Wheat Producers' Marketing Board and the Ontario Federation of Agriculture.[10]

Whelan first won a seat in the House of Commons in the 1962 election, representing the southwestern Ontario riding of Essex, and held it until his retirement in 1984.[6] Whelan ran to succeed Trudeau at the 1984 Liberal leadership convention, but came in last.[5] In 1996, Whelan was appointed to the Senate by Jean Chrétien, and served in the chamber until he reached the mandatory retirement age of 75 in 1999.[6]

Minister of Agriculture

In 1972, Whelan was appointed as Minister of Agriculture in the cabinet of Pierre Trudeau, and held the position until Trudeau's retirement in 1984, except during the 1979-1980 Joe Clark government.[6]

He once recalled a time when his qualifications for Minister were questioned:

I remember one time when I was out West, someone asked me what the hell I knew, coming from Ontario, about being minister of agriculture and I said I knew just as much as Allan Blakeney, premier of Saskatchewan who was born in Nova Scotia, or Don Getty in Alberta who was born in Quebec, or Bill Vander Zalm in B.C. who came from Holland. The fact is that I came from the most diversified farming region in the country, and we were diversified farmers ourselves. We had it all and I was an agriculture minister who really had hands on experience.[11]

As Minister, Whelan promoted the extension of national marketing boards — first implemented with the creation of the Canadian Dairy Commission in 1970 — to eggs in 1972, turkey in 1974, and chicken in 1978.[12] These were placed under the supervision of the National Farm Products Council. For those commodities not under supply management, he fought to maintain a level playing field in world markets at a time when other countries strongly subsidized such products. He was successful in getting the Canadian government to increase its support for farmers, through amendments to the Agricultural Stabilization Act[13][14] and the introduction of the Western Grain Stabilization Act.[12][14][15] In 1977, the Advance Payments for Crops Act was passed,[16] which guaranteed loans to producers requiring advance payments for perishable crops. He opened markets in the Soviet Union for Canadian wheat, and established legislation to protect fruit and vegetable growers from processor bankruptcies.[10] He also restricted the powers of the Canadian Wheat Board, allowing private-sector feed grain trading and inter-provincial movement of feed.[12]

Whelan's English was rough-hewn, and his French was non-existent. He openly acknowledged this, exclaiming:

Canada has two official languages and I don't speak none of them.[4]

Whelan was one of Pierre Trudeau's best constitutional campaigners. However, in 1976 angry Quebec dairy farmers threw diluted milk on Whelan after cabinet refused to approve dairy subsidies to compensate farmers in a collapsed world market. Whelan said this refusal contributed to the success of the Parti Québécois in rural ridings that fall.[17]

His green stetson hat became well-known and Whelan was seen as an ardently vociferous advocate for the agricultural sector, with a habit for plain-spokenness (which occasionally got him in trouble).[18] In response to complaints voiced over the cost of food, when he wanted to stress the average farmer's narrow profit margin, he said:

The cost of cars, fur coats, housing, booze, travel goes up and who gets excited? Nobody, because they don't buy these things every day. Potatoes go up a few cents and my God, everybody's crying.[1]

Catalyst for Russian perestroika

During his last term as Minister of Agriculture, Whelan became good friends with Aleksandr Yakovlev, then the USSR's Ambassador to Canada, as both men were ardent agriculturalists. The relationship became so close that Pierre Trudeau called him in to get assurance that Whelan had not divulged any national secrets, as the minister was a member of the Cabinet defence committee.[19] When Mikhail Gorbachev, then Soviet Minister of Agriculture, came to Canada in 1983, Yakovlev connected Gorbachev with Whelan, who arranged a three-week tour across Canada for both Soviet officials, accompanied personally by Whelan.

In 2013 Jean Chrétien recalled Whelan introducing Gorbachev to Canadian life when the tour came to Windsor:

'He came to Windsor and introduced him to the life of a Canadian,' Chretien said. 'He was amazed at the food processing in Canada, to have all the food available so quickly. Later on, they were driving and he was marvelling to see two cars in front of every house.'
The group stopped in front of one blue-collar home.
'Gorbachev said, "Do you know them?" And Gene said, "I don't know them, but they know me,"' Chretien recalled. 'So they knocked on the door and went into the house. Gorbachev was very impressed by that.'[20]

At the end of that tour, the Whelans hosted a farewell reception for Gorbachev at their Amherstburg home on the evening of 19 May 1983. Whelan was delayed in arriving. In what has since been called "the walk that changed the world", Yakovlev and Gorbachev walked in a nearby orchard, strolled among saplings and past fields of corn, soy and wheat, had an earnest discussion, and resolved that the old ways in the USSR had to end.[21][22]

According to Yakovlev, this was where perestroika was born, with 80% of its features discussed while visiting Whelan's farm.[2][23][24]

In an interview years later, Yakovlev recalled:

At first we kind of sniffed around each other and our conversations didn't touch on serious issues. And then, verily, history plays tricks on one, we had a lot of time together as guests of then Liberal Minister of Agriculture Eugene Whelan in Canada who, himself, was too late for the reception because he was stuck with some striking farmers somewhere. So we took a long walk on that Minister's farm and, as it often happens, both of us [Yakovlev and Gorbachev] suddenly were just kind of flooded and let go. I somehow, for some reason, threw caution to the wind and started telling him about what I considered to be utter stupidities in the area of foreign affairs, especially about those SS-20 missiles that were being stationed in Europe and a lot of other things. And he did the same thing. We were completely frank. He frankly talked about the problems in the internal situation in Russia. He was saying that under these conditions, the conditions of dictatorship and absence of freedom, the country would simply perish. So it was at that time, during our three-hour conversation, almost as if our heads were knocked together, that we poured it all out and during that three-hour conversation we actually came to agreement on all our main points.[25]


Whelan was once host of the Agricultural Hour on CFRA in Ottawa.[26]

International appointments

He served as president of the United Nations World Food Council from 1983 to 1985.[1] Whelan was appointed as Canadian ambassador to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome. Progressive Conservative Party of Canada leader Brian Mulroney promised to rescind the appointment if he became Prime Minister. Mulroney won the 1984 election, and recalled Whelan as one of his first acts of office.[1]

Whelan also actively participated in the Agri-Energy Roundtable (AER), an international non-governmental organization which forged a dialogue between food-surplus and energy-surplus nations, their private sectors, and multilateral agencies. Working with US Senator Jennings Randolph (D-WV) - a noted humanitarian- and Lord Harry Walston of the United Kingdom and others, Whelan helped the AER to gain United Nations recognition in 1985. Whelan joined AER's Committee of Honor and rose to become AER's vice chairman. As such he presided at a number of international conferences in the late 1980s.


  • In 1984, the Woodslee soil substation of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's Greenhouse and Processing Crops Research Centre, located at Woodslee, Ontario, was renamed as the Honourable Eugene F. Whelan Experimental Farm.[33]
  • In 2008, the Whelan ancestral home,[34] where Eugene was born, was relocated for preservation to the Canadian Transportation Museum and Historical Village[35] in Essex, Ontario.[36]


Whelan and his wife Elizabeth had three daughters. Susan Whelan went into politics and was elected to the House of Commons in 1993 in her father's old riding. In 2001 she was appointed as Minister of International Trade in Chrétien's cabinet. She was dropped from Cabinet with the change of administrations when Paul Martin became prime minister.[37]

Death and funeral

He died at his home in Amherstburg on February 19, 2013, following complications from heart disease and colon cancer.[4][5] His funeral was held on February 23, 2013, at St. John The Baptist Church in Amherstburg, and he was buried in the church cemetery. Jean Chrétien, Herb Gray and Remo Mancini were among the people that gave eulogies at the service.[38]

Electoral record

Essex South

1962 Canadian federal election
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Liberal WHELAN, Eugene 11,397 48.7% +13.6%
Progressive Conservative THRASHER, Richard D. 10,409 44.4% -16.8%
New Democratic CERVIN, Val 1,342 5.7% +2.0%
Unknown BACKER, Jack 284 1.2% +1.2%
Total valid votes 23,432 100.0%
Liberal gain Swing +15.4%
1963 Canadian federal election
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Liberal WHELAN, Eugene F. 12,947 50.7% +2.0%
Progressive Conservative THRASHER, Richard Devere 12,178 47.7% +3.3%
Social Credit BACKER, Jack 419 1.6% -4.1%
Total valid votes 25,544 100.0%
Liberal hold Swing -0.6%
1965 Canadian federal election
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Liberal WHELAN, Eugene F. 12,887 53.1% +2.4%
Progressive Conservative THRASHER, Richard D. 10,072 41.5% -6.2%
New Democratic BERTRAND, Donald E. 1,329 5.4% +3.8%
Total valid votes 24,288 100.0%
Liberal hold Swing +4.3%


1980 Canadian federal election: Essex—Windsor
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Liberal Eugene Whelan 24,651 51.3% +7.0%
New Democratic Steven W. Langdon 19,123 39.8% -0.7%
Progressive Conservative Kathy Flood 4,184 8.7% -6.2%
Marxist–Leninist Peter Ewart 103 0.2% -0.1%
Total valid votes 48,061 100.0%

1979 Canadian federal election: Essex—Windsor
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Liberal Eugene Whelan 20,373 44.3% -10.9%
New Democratic Steven W. Langdon 18,603 40.4% +5.0%
Progressive Conservative Kathy Flood 6,875 14.9% 5.6%
Marxist–Leninist Pete Ewart 144 0.3%
Total valid votes 45,995 100.0%
1974 Canadian federal election: Essex—Windsor
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Liberal Eugene Whelan 24,357 55.2% +7.1%
New Democratic Charles Brooks 15,656 35.5% -4.6%
Progressive Conservative Dennis Herring 4,148 9.4% -2.6%
Total valid votes 44,161 100.0%
1972 Canadian federal election: Essex—Windsor
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Liberal Eugene Whelan 19,793 48.0% -1.7%
New Democratic Ralph N. Wensley 16,503 40.0% +8.3%
Progressive Conservative Edmund A. Michael 4,929 12.0% -6.6%
Total valid votes 41,225 100.0%
1968 Canadian federal election: Essex
Party Candidate Votes %
Liberal Eugene Whelan 14,707 49.7%
New Democratic Ralph N. Wensley 9,399 31.8%
Progressive Conservative Tom Taylor 5,485 18.5%
Total valid votes 29,591 100.0%


There is a Eugene F. Whelan fonds at Library and Archives Canada.[39]


  1. ^ a b c d "Former Liberal cabinet minister Eugene Whelan dead at 88". The Globe and Mail. 20 February 2013. Retrieved 20 February 2013.
  2. ^ a b c Trevor Wilhelm (20 February 2013). "'He's just a great Canadian. Definitely one of the best'". Windsor Star. Retrieved 29 November 2021.
  3. ^ "Editorial: Eugene Whelan was one-of-a-kind politician". Windsor Star. 21 February 2013. Retrieved 29 November 2021.
  4. ^ a b c d e Sandra Martin (2 March 2013). "Man in the green Stetson brought verve and sass to public life during Trudeau era". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 29 November 2021.
  5. ^ a b c "Former agriculture minister Eugene Whelan dead at 88". CBC News. 20 February 2013. Retrieved 20 February 2013.
  6. ^ a b c d e Eugene Whelan – Parliament of Canada biography
  7. ^ a b c d "Eugene WHELAN: Obituary". Windsor Star. Retrieved 22 February 2013.
  8. ^ a b "Eugene Whelan's contribution to Canada remembered at funeral". Toronto Star. 23 February 2013. Retrieved 24 February 2013.
  9. ^ Johnson, J.K. (1968). The Canadian Directory of Parliament 1867-1967. Public Archives of Canada.
  10. ^ a b c "Hon. Eugene F. Whelan". Canadian Agricultural Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on 29 November 2021. Retrieved 29 November 2021.
  11. ^ Lee Hart (20 February 2013). "Eugene Whelan was IP in a political crop". Grainews. Archived from the original on 5 March 2013. Retrieved 23 February 2013.
  12. ^ a b c "Trudeau's iconic ag minister Eugene Whelan, 88". Alberta Farmer Express. 20 February 2013. Retrieved 21 February 2013.
  13. ^ Agricultural Stabilization Act, R.S.C. 1970, c. A-9, as amended by S.C. 1974-75-76, c. 63
  14. ^ a b since replaced by the Farm Income Protection Act, S.C. 1991, c. 22
  15. ^ Western Grain Stabilization Act, S.C. 1974-75-76, c. 87
  16. ^ Advance Payments for Crops Act, now R.S.C., 1985, c. C-49
  17. ^ Serving Agriculture: Canada's Ministers of Agriculture, 1867-1997. Internet Archive. 1998. ISBN 9780662639961. Retrieved 21 February 2013.
  18. ^ "28 million rotten eggs". CBC. 1974. Retrieved 29 November 2021.
  19. ^ Gord Henderson (20 February 2013). "Eugene Whelan: Patriot with a passion". Windsor Star. Archived from the original on 23 February 2013. Retrieved 21 February 2013.
  20. ^ "Chretien, Trudeau, Gray: Whelan was fun, straight-talking". Windsor Star. 21 February 2013. Retrieved 29 November 2021.
  21. ^ Brett Popplewell (28 March 2010). "How glasnost grew in Ontario". Toronto Star. Retrieved 29 November 2021.
  22. ^ David Hoffman (2009). The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and its Dangerous Legacy. New York: Random House. p. 184. ISBN 978-0-385-52437-7.
  23. ^ "Whelan-Gorbachev meeting put Russia on path to democracy". Windsor Star. 13 June 2008. Archived from the original on 13 June 2014. Retrieved 20 February 2013.
  24. ^ Christopher Shulgan (2008). The Soviet Ambassador: The Making of the Radical Behind Perestroika. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart. p. 267. ISBN 978-0-7710-7997-9.
  25. ^ "Shaping Russia's Transformation: A Leader of Perestroika Looks Back - Interview with Aleksandr Yakovlev". Institute of International Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. 21 November 1996. Retrieved 21 February 2013.
  26. ^ Chris Holski (20 February 2013). "Former minister, CFRA personality Eugene Whelan passes away". CFRA. Retrieved 23 February 2013.
  27. ^ "Members of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada". Archived from the original on 21 April 2012.
  28. ^ "Honorary Degree by Convocation" (PDF). University of Windsor. Archived from the original (PDF) on 20 February 2011. Retrieved 20 February 2013.
  29. ^ "Order of Canada citation". Retrieved 29 November 2021.
  30. ^ "Hon. Eugene F. Whelan". Ontario Agricultural Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on 7 April 2013. Retrieved 21 February 2013.
  31. ^ "Recipients". 11 June 2018.
  32. ^ "Recipients". 11 June 2018.
  33. ^ "Greenhouse and Processing Crops Research Centre: 100 years of agricultural research excellence". Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Retrieved 21 February 2013.
  34. ^ "Village Picture 10". Archived from the original on 14 April 2015. Retrieved 14 June 2013.
  35. ^ "". 4 September 2011. Retrieved 14 June 2013.
  36. ^ Jennifer Cranston (30 July 2008). "New addition at CTMHV" (PDF). Essex Free Press. p. 3. Retrieved 29 November 2021.
  37. ^ Susan Whelan – Parliament of Canada biography
  38. ^ Rebecca Wright (23 February 2013). "Chretien lightens mood at Whelan funeral". Windsor Star. Retrieved 24 February 2013.
  39. ^ "Eugene F. Whelan fonds, Library and Archives Canada".

Further reading

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Eugene Whelan
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