Agriculture needs more representation

There is an old saying that “might means right” and it’s a euphemism that rings true in many decisions that our made

Ahead of the Heard

There is an old saying that “might means right” and it’s a euphemism that rings true in many decisions that our made that affect the wellbeing of society. It’s also the way democratic society works and there is no problem with that – unless of course it has a negative impact on one personally. The idea then is to use democracy to change the way decisions are made through the democratic process – at least that’s the ideal.

In our modern society many decisions are done by those appointed to positions of power by the ruling elected entity. That’s okay to as long as it’s not abused and citizens have some recourse to a third party like the courts when an injustice is perceived. So what has all this to do with agriculture – lots actually – because more of what makes ag work is impacted by folks that don’t have much connection to the ag industry or rural Alberta for that matter. One only has to cite the PC government’s property rights legislation political fiasco to see how folks with power can get some basic notions wrong. The success of the Wildrose opposition party was a direct result of that lack of understanding of how important the issue was to voters in rural and small town Alberta.

It’s not just property rights – it’s water rights, environmental regulations, gun registration, rural hospitals, endangered species orders, land use stewardship, well site issues and the list goes on and on. Decisions that involve many of those issues sometimes come as a complete surprise to farmers, ranchers and land owners. Those affected then have to fight a rearguard action just to be heard after the fact. That’s not particularly effective. What would be a lot better were if those affected would not only have some prior knowledge of an impending issue but at least some input before the damage is done.

It will be said the industry and land owners already have input through their elected local representatives and appointments to oversight and advisory bodies. And that’s true to a point, what’s missing at times is any representation at all or not on a proportional basis relevant to agriculture’s vested interest in the issue. For instance the Alberta Water Council has 24 members but only five are connected to agriculture yet half dozen are connected to recreation and green groups. That may not seem important but 80 per cent of the water in this province is for irrigation and livestock. To many of those folks agriculture is seen as the enemy – not much chance of objectivity.

The point is this – a concerted effort needs to be taken by the ag industry to find and analyze every existing committee, council, roundtable, advisory entity, appointed government agency quasi or otherwise in this province or nationally that affects agriculture and rural society in this province. For instance do appointed recreational groups exist that affect hunting, fishing and access regulations that in turn affect property owners – landowners should have solid representation on such entities. Those making the appointments should be challenged to justify any exclusions of ag representation, and governments should make ag and being a landowner a requisite to obtaining government grants.

Alas there is an underlying problem to such a wish – the ag industry is too fractured to have the resources both professional and representative to adequately take part even if it was offered the opportunity. That’s not saying participation doesn’t exist – various livestock and crop sector organizations do their best to have their interests represented where needed. But it’s not a well-coordinated exercise and is sometimes fraught with industry politics where there are competitive interests trying to represent the same commodity or producer. The fact is that approach does not help the industry and questions ag industry credibility.

What would seem to be needed is for the ag industry to first find and evaluate what entities affect the sector no matter how obscure, then determine whether ag representation would be useful and then divide up between industry organizations who shall provide the representation. Finally there is a control perception that representation needs to be by means of elected organization members or staff, but that shouldn’t be the case. There are lots of folks within agriculture or even retired old industry politicians or farm media warhorses that would be happy to represent the interests of the industry – I expect all that would be needed is to ask them. Just some food for thought.