Is ALMA’s future in danger

The recent announcement by the Alberta government that they will be reviewing hundreds of agencies, commissions and committees...

The recent announcement by the Alberta government that they will be reviewing hundreds of agencies, commissions and committees should be of concern to the ag industry in this province. It should be noted that the review includes only those entities that have some direct government connection usually through legislation or appointment. That will probably bring some consternation to the organizations affected as it’s not exactly clear what the government’s intentions are in the review process. One can’t help but speculate whether their intents are to reduce regulatory hoops, save taxpayer money or what some suspect, wield some ideological mischief. None of those intentions would be unique to an NDP government, the previous PC party regime from time to time engaged in the same so-called reviews. For example, about 15 years ago, the PC government required agriculture commissions and boards and their enabling legislation to be reviewed on a five-year basis and required their membership to confirm their continuation. That’s a good process and keeps organizations focused and on their toes. What isn’t needed is for government to make that decision for the organizations and their members – which is a fear some groups may suspect as a result of the new review process.

Agencies and groups that are directly appointed and fully financed by the government probably have the most to fear from a review, being they could be dismissed and terminated at the minister’s whim. The Alberta Meat and Livestock Agency (ALMA) falls into that category. ALMA was created by the government in 2009 as part of a political arrangement that saw the elimination of mandatory checkoffs for some livestock and crop commissions. The creation of the agency was criticized by many (including your humble columnist) as nothing more than a scheme to deflect the blatantly biased decision of the government to end mandatory checkoffs. To say the least, ALMA had a rocky start and initially its credibility was constantly questioned. However, most would now agree (including me) that ALMA has transformed itself into one of the most successful of government agencies. It has fostered and supported hundreds of food and animal agriculture related industry development projects. The value-added research projects have created hundreds of jobs, many of them in rural communities. With the collapse of the energy industry the present government is focusing on diversification to help our faltering economy, they would do well to build on the success of ALMA to pursue that goal. I would suggest doubling the ALMA budget would see concrete and swift results in new jobs and business expansion.

If the government is looking at reviewing the relevance of some agencies, they might examine the fate of the Alberta Grains Council (formerly the Alberta Grain Commission). Its main claim to fame was that the former PC government used it as an anti-Canadian Wheat Board propaganda political operation. It was used to carry out research that would disparage the economic benefits of the board and funnel money into anti-board groups. To be fair, the grains council does carry out other grain and oilseed industry development projects, but its overall function is to provide advice to the Agriculture Minister on industry issues. Those advising activities should be provided by the existing cereal and oilseed commissions whose directors are elected by actual producers. The Grain Council directors are all political appointees by the former PC government, that alone should put their future in jeopardy with the present NDP government. I suggest a test for the need and relevancy of the Grains Council would be to offer their mandate and operation to the existing cereal boards and commissions. If they are not willing to support its continuation that would be a message for the government. But I digress.

Another concern with the success of ALMA is that it has probably not been popular with some senior civil servants. It falls under the command of the minister of agriculture, but operates as a separate entity from the department with its own budget, CEO and board of directors. That would annoy turf-focused bureaucrats who would rather see ALMA activities under their control. That’s the way it was prior to the creation of ALMA, when the department managed many industry research and development projects. If the government is bent on cutbacks and eliminating agencies, ALMA could be a target by calculating department bureaucrats. The fact is ALMA has proven itself time and again to be insightful, highly professional and a real asset to the animal agriculture industry. That’s not bad for a government agency.