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Telling It On The Mountain

An ag exec tells Canada s titans of industry that there s just one thing they really need to know about agriculture. Today s farmers are on the cusp of something unbelievable.

He has impressed Frank Guarascio, a lawyer and partner with Blake, Cassels and Graydon. And if that is all that Jay Bradshaw manages to accomplish today, there s still every chance that it should go into the books as a solid day s work.

Blake, Cassels and Graydon is one of the seven sisters, the fabled group of leading Canadian law firms that have offices in Toronto. Even among that exalted group, Blake, Cassels and Graydon is a leader, said to have put together more big-league mergers and acquisitions in the last three years than any other firm in the country.

Blake, Cassels and Graydon thrives on the rarefied air of Bay Street, and Bradshaw has come to the Economic Club of Canada to convince Guarascio and his downtown neighbours that agriculture is good business.

Did he get the job done? Guarascio makes me believe he did. The agribusiness and food sector is one of growing importance to national and international communities and Canada is well positioned to benefit, Guarascio says after Bradshaw s lunch-time speech.

In fact, Guarascio was already conditioned to hear that message. He points out his firm has set up a national agribusiness and food practice group. But he is walking away with a couple of other key messages too.

It is important for Canada to have strong national players in the financial and legal industries who can focus on helping to take advantage of the business opportunities, Guarascio tells me. In other words, there s money to be made by backing Canada s agriculture.

And the second message? It s a LOT of money. For Guarascio, the key impact of Bradshaw s speech was to show just how much potential exists in the agricultural industry and that Canada is, and can continue to be, a leader on the world stage.

To come to the National Club, the exclusive private club in the heart of Toronto s financial district, I had to fight fierce winds barrelling down canyon-like Bay Street. With the thunderous bells of the old city hall tolling behind me, and the elegant stone facade of the Canada Permanent Trust building across the street, this setting could be from another era.

It s a part of Toronto that anyone can see from the outside, but few from the inside.

Checking in with the concierge, I feel underdressed despite my shirt and tie. In fact, photographer Drew de Haas is shown out the door when he arrives in jeans, forced to hustle up a suit before he can get in.

Drew and I find our seats at the back of a large room hung with chandeliers and a gallery wrapped around the top. At the front are pictures of powerful people including lieutenant-governors, premiers, prime ministers, and past club presidents. The message is, this is their kind of place.

And it is. The place reeks of Bay Street extravagance, and it s the last place I d expect to hear about agriculture. Yet at $79 a head, here we are, seated at linen-draped tables with silver-plate cutlery, listening to Jay Bradshaw, president of Syngenta Canada, talk about how agriculture is fuelling the economy.

Bradshaw s talk today came about when Cohn and Wolfe, Syngenta s public relations group pitched the idea to the Economic Club of Canada. The club, which bills itself as the only national, nonpartisan organization to stage talks by

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Steven Biggs is an author, writer, and speaker who shares stories from the food chain. Find him at stevenbiggs.ca.

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