Don’t be afraid to ask a question: Dori Gingera-Beauchemin reflects on a 44-year career leading agriculture files in government

“If I’d give any advice, I’d say don’t be afraid to ask questions…don’t ask a question because you know the answer. Ask a question because you genuinely want to know, and get their opinion and get their advice. And when you ask that question, when you explore that curiosity, you’re wiser, and the folks who you’ve asked have had a good experience in sharing it with you.”

As she settles into retirement, Dori Gingera-Beauchemin admits there are days she “misses the craziness” of her role as the top public servant in a provincial agriculture department.

She officially retired from her role as deputy agriculture minister in Manitoba in January, after a four-decade career with Manitoba Agriculture, dating back to the summer of 1975 when she worked for the department as a summer student.

Speaking with RealAgriculture from her home southeast of Winnipeg in the interview below, Gingera-Beauchemin is still busy, travelling to Japan to visit friends she made as part of the Canada-Japan 4-H student exchange program, which she helped establish 35 years ago, and spending more time with family.

Prior to becoming deputy minister in 2013, her roles with the province included the following: 4-H and Youth Specialist, Chief of the 4-H Program, Director of the Central Region, Director of the Marketing & Farm Business Management Branch, Assistant Deputy Minister of Agri-Food and Rural Development Division, and Assistant Deputy Minister of Policy and Agri-Environment Division.

As evidenced by the response to word of her upcoming retirement last year, Gingera-Beauchemin’s rapport reached beyond the Manitoba border, when it came to federal-provincial agriculture meetings, negotiating new ag policy framework agreements, and dealing with files that affect multiple provinces, such as trade issues in the livestock sector. With the turnover in agriculture ministers in cabinet shuffles, very few others in the room for the negotiations on the new Sustainable Canadian Agricultural Partnership last year had her background knowledge.

“There were lots of very strong and respectful relationships that made even negotiating the policy frameworks I think probably a little bit easier than maybe some of the (other departments) who’ve got so many complicated issues to add. We knew what we wanted to get done, and that resonated through. But (I had) lots of great relationships, and I miss those folks, and consider many of them as my friends, that’s for sure,” she says.

She also brought that experience and continuity to the provincial agriculture minister’s office, as she worked closely with both New Democrat and Progressive Conservative ministers, serving as deputy to Ministers Ron Kostyshyn, Ralph Eichler (two separate stints), Blaine Pedersen, and Derek Johnson. As she notes, Manitoba is unique versus some other provinces in having its deputy minister work inside the minister’s office at the provincial legislature.

“Whether it’s a transition between political parties, or even a transition from one minister to a new minister, there’s a really important piece the deputy plays in making sure there’s a linkage and a strong understanding of the minister and the party’s priorities and understanding how they want to execute those…ad then the second part is being able to offer to the new minister exactly what kind of capacity they currently have in the public service and what the public service is able to do,” she explains.

Ultimately, looking back, she says the advice she’d like to pass on is something that she’s shared in presentations and at least one other interview over the past few years.

“It’s really about being curious. When you come into a position, you may be surrounded by folks who are really at the height of their game. They know their clients. They they know the dynamics. They know the science. They know the industry, and there’s lots of capable people around us. However sometimes folks are threatened. When you come in 44 years ago to an industry that was in a lot of, you know, certainly less females than then there is now you know, there’s a bit of intimidation,” she says.

“If so if I’d give any advice, I’d say don’t be afraid to ask questions…don’t ask a question because you know the answer. Ask a question because you genuinely want to know, and get their opinion and get their advice. And when you ask that question, when you explore that curiosity, you’re wiser, and the folks who you’ve asked have had a good experience in sharing it with you.”

The internet and Google have made it much easier to access information, but there are often less obvious benefits to picking up the phone and talking to someone, she notes.

“In the big scheme of things, if you were to reach out and call somebody, you know, whether it’s a farmer in your area or an industry and ask them their advice, there’s a number of bigger wins in it than just getting the information off the internet. So I think that probably is more important now than ever, to retain that curiosity,” she says.

Listen to the full interview below as Gingera-Beauchemin reflects on her career, the highlights, and the lessons learned along the way, after working in agriculture for the Manitoba government for the past forty-plus years:

Related: The Confidence of Curiosity — It’s OK to Not Know

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