The federal election is only a few weeks old and promises are being pronounced by every political party. It’s all part of the usual process in campaigns to convince the innocent voter on the virtues of their parties. Most parties engage squadrons of strategists, pollsters, consultants and public relations spin artists to create a successful election campaign. Every issue, real or imagined, is scrutinized and agonized over as to its potential to sway votes. Every sector of the economy is examined to find ways for leaders to either cater to or rant about it depending on what the other parties are advocating. The usual suspects like energy, health, education, infrastructure, security all get painstaking attention from every political angle. But there is one sector of the economy that tends to escape attention from most political parties, and you guessed it, that would be agriculture. It’s not because it’s insignificant – the entire sector generates many billions of dollars and significant employment. But it becomes insignificant when counting voters. With ever decreasing numbers of producers, there are fewer federal constituencies where the farmer/rancher vote can be decisive.
The reality of the declining rural vote has been that the main parties have increasingly focused on urban connected issues and that’s just common sense from a political strategy. But I am sure those of us in the industry wished that ag would get some bit of attention. The problem is much of the political strategy brain trust of the federal parties are city folks with little background or understanding of the ag industry. Through no fault of their own I suspect most believe food magically appears at grocery stores every day. To aggravate such naiveté many would be susceptible to the duplicitous machinations of anti-agriculture green lobby groups with their twisted perspectives and hidden agendas. That’s probably the most worrisome aspect of the political benign neglect of the ag industry by federal strategists.
A perusal of what little ag policy that does exist in party platforms shows that most have some position on supply management. That’s not the result of some genuine interest in the topic by the parties, which can be mind-numbing for even the most politically astute voter. But is the result of intense lobbying by the poultry and dairy industries who have made sure the main parties are committed to their marketing system. The fact that all three main parties are formally committed to preserving supply management is a credit to the tenacity, skill and power of those industries’ lobbying machines. Although they are all committed to preserving the system as it presently consists, those commitments tend to vary in depth between the parties. The NDP seems most dedicated, the Liberals somewhat weaker in support, with the Conservatives mediocre at best, if not suspect.
One thing for sure, all leaders sooner or later will see themselves staged in rural looking costumes on some farm with cows or bales of hay in the background. They will then make the usual pronouncements on their steadfast support of the family farm. Some further verbal political fluff will be added about the safest and best food production in the world. Some may even delve into food security and the need to grow more of our own food. The Conservatives will have an edge in political agriculture bombast being they have an astute and long-serving federal Ag Minister who knows the topic better than anyone. That’s a political advantage, but with so few farm voters it may not matter.
The one party that does seem to have a much more specific policy platform about agriculture would be the federal Green Party. Rather than address actual issues of concern with present day agricultural production and rural society, the Greens have the ultimate solution – return agriculture to the good old days. That would be a return to 18th century subsistence peasant farming. You know the good old days when farmers worked from dusk till dawn fighting weeds and brush with no herbicides, dealing with plagues of insects, fungi, molds, with no pesticides, sweating and straining behind horses because there were no fossil fuel burning and emissions spewing machinery, and dealing with horrendous livestock losses and diseases because there were no antibiotics or vaccines. One last note about the Green Party approach, it would see food production drop by 75 per cent – city voters would starve to death even those that voted Green. I guess its one of those inconvenient truths. More on the election and agriculture in a future column.