Ahead of the Heard
A perusal of the websites of the three Progressive Conservative (PC) leadership candidates shows that one of them seems to have a better appreciation of agriculture-related issues. Only Ric McIver has specific agriculture planks in his policy platform, a rather pleasant surprise coming from a Calgary city boy. That’s in stark contrast to the other two candidates who make only a passive reference to the second largest industry in the province – which is usually all you can expect from city-based candidates. Candidate Jim Prentice promotes his humble workingclass roots in small-town Grand Cache, but it did not include agriculture. To be fair, in his policy priorities list, he did include the words agriculture, farmer and rancher at least once. As the front runner it would appear that he and his handlers did not deem it necessary to go any further than the usual political platitudes. I guess the intent of their campaign approach is to portray an aura of divine wisdom on future issues from their candidate. It’s a politically safe approach as it doesn’t box the winning candidate into a corner later by pesky citizens reminding him of some promise made during the campaign. Such a political misstep plagued former Premier Alison Redford, who made an agriculture-related promise that that she couldn’t keep.
Candidate Thomas Lukaszuk expounded a bit on producers feeding the world, finding new markers and encouraging ag innovation. That’s all standard PC party political bombast. It’s also a safe approach – that being not questioning past policies that you, your party and government have supported for years. He also probably learned from the former Premier’s rash promise that she made about giving basic employee rights to farmworkers. As a former Minister of Labour that issue also caused him some political grief as he came under pressure from the powerful farm lobby to derail any extension of those rights. In fact all three PC party candidates have stated that none of them support extending employee rights to farmworkers. They wouldn’t dream of making such a statement about workers in any other sector of the economy. They will have the dubious honour of maintaining Alberta as the only province in Canada without providing those basic rights to farmworkers. But I digress.
There is one matter that seems to finally be dawning on some folks in the PC brain trust and that is the political consequences of the property rights issue. The PC candidates in various degrees of acknowledgement seem to recognize that issue may have caused the loss of all their rural ridings south of Camrose to the Wildrose Party. Candidate Prentice seems aware of that political debacle with a specific reference to the rights of property owners. He wasn’t part of the provincial government when the controversial land use and property rights legislation was enacted so it will be easier for him to re-visit that issue. Candidate McIver makes an even more forceful statement about the issue declaring that he will take specific action to resolve the matter. That would be a most politically astute approach for the PC party, being the Wildrose Party will again be using the property rights issue as their major election sledge hammer. If the PC party isn’t prepared to eat humble pie on that issue they will just be giving the Wildrose Party even more rural and small town seats as a gift. However it will be a tough political pill for the PC party to swallow – they don’t admit mistakes easily.
Candidate McIver and his political handlers seemed to have figured out that PC party members actually exist outside of the major centres and that their leadership votes can be attracted by means of specific agriculture and rural policy. It’s a wise move not just for Mr. McIver but for the PC party considering the beating they took from the Wildrose Party in the last election. The attitude of PC party strategists for many years has been to ignore rural areas and small towns, being they were considered a captive PC vote. It’s an attitude they still seem to blissfully maintain – assuming that wayward Wildrose voters would soon return to the PC flock. I would suggest that no matter who wins the PC party leadership, they face an uphill battle in many areas of Alberta as the Wildrose Party steadily consolidates its base and puts into place a sophisticated election machine.
Good luck to the successful PC candidate, he will need lots of it for the next election.