One would expect that unlike the smaller political parties the two main dogs in the election, the PC and Wildrose parties, would have robust agriculture policy platforms. One might assume that with the success of Wildrose in rural and small town ridings that both parties would promote specific policies to regain or maintain those seats. Well don’t hold your breath as neither party at this point seems interested in promoting any visionary perspectives on the future of agriculture. But that’s not unusual for most political parties being their political brain trust (mostly urban-based spin doctors) tend to deem agriculture and rural issues as minor afterthoughts. One is always bemused as how astonished most city folks are when they discover that agriculture and food production are the second largest economic industry in Alberta. But I digress.
Soon after Premier Prentice began his rule he passed Bill 1, which was designed to soften the impact of a group of previously passed land use related laws. Those regulations proved to be a rich target for the Wildrose Party’s property rights campaign. It would be fair to say that issue was instrumental in Wildrose gaining as many seats as they did in the last election. Unlike the previous Redford PC regime, the Prentice PC political strategists realized they needed to neutralize that Wildrose political advantage. Hence Bill I was passed, although analysts admit its mostly smoke and mirrors. However, if early polls continue to favour Wildrose, the PC party may want to put more teeth into Bill 1 to derail any Wildrose political momentum in rural Alberta. The Wildrose policy website indicates that they will continue to hammer the PCs over property rights.
Outside of the property rights issue, past elections have shown that PC and Wildrose ag policies tend to sing from the same song sheet. Both are for more ag and rural development, opening new markets, removing red tape, better risk management and protecting the ag way of life. Both parties are also against giving farm workers WCB or OHS rights, which is contrary to what is done in every other province in the country. Both parties are in favour of protecting access to rural health services, but I expect few voters in the countryside believe that will happen with a giant centralized urban-based health authority running the health bureaucracy. It would seem from an agricultural policy or vision perspective both the PC and Wildrose parties are giving voters good reasons not to vote for either party. Yet if recent polls indicate a very tight race between the two parties, you would assume that either would try to give rural and small town voters an incentive to vote. That would seem politically wise but no sign of such enlightenment yet.
In case any political party wants to improve their chances of getting some real attention from rural and small town voters and giving them a reason to even vote, your humble writer will provide some free policy advice.
– Announce that your party will make a formal covenant that guarantees rural and small town residents will receive medical services equal to those received by city residents.
– Announce that your party will support and expand the STARS emergency services to improve the respond time for all
– Announce that your party will provide transportation subsidies for citizens that have to travel more than 25 km to larger centres for medical services.
– Announce that your party will increase available acreage and infrastructure to expand irrigation agriculture in Alberta.
– Announce that your party will begin an extensive range rehabilitation support program to return rangelands to their original productivity.
– Announce that your party will begin to pay landowners for maintaining ecologically sensitive areas to preserve endangered plant and animal species.
– Announce that your party will provide tax credits to producers who continue to develop and maintain progressive environmental and animal welfare practices.
– Announce that your party will construct regional industrial bio-digesters to process organic residues such as manure and food waste.
– Announce that your party will financially and legally support land owners that are threatened by nuisance lawsuits and federal government actions on environmental issues.
– Announce that your party will require, where possible, that all perishable food products sold in Alberta be irradiated, a safe food safety process that will significantly reduce food poisoning.
I would respectfully suggest that any party adopting the above would see their popularity increase significantly with almost all voters outside of the main urban centres.