Agriculture shouldn’t expect much from candidates

Once again the province finds itself in the throes of another PC party campaign to crown another new Premier of Alberta.

Once again the province finds itself in the throes of another PC party campaign to crown another new Premier of Alberta. Commentators are predicting a coronation for perceived favourite Jim Prentice against Rick McIver and Thomas Lukaszuk, who at time of writing had not yet filed their nomination papers. There is always the potential of either one getting cold feet, being it will be a daunting task to defeat the potential new PC party messiah.

It’s somewhat premature for the upcoming leadership campaign, but one does ponder what policy ideas these gentlemen will be proposing for the agriculture industry in Alberta. If past history is any indication don’t expect much as the candidates are all city boys who are unlikely to know the difference between a doorknob and a Hereford.

They will also probably surround themselves with managers, advisors, analysts and PR flacks that have no connection or understanding of the ag industry. You can expect the platform focus of all candidates will be on the energy business and popular issues like more infrastructure, jobs, health and education. Agriculture as one might expect tends to get lost in all that heavy political traffic.

Even when their campaign brain trust realizes that agriculture is the second largest sector of the economy and they should provide some cursory recognition of its existence, the result tends to be superficial. First some full disclosure – over the past many years political parties and leadership candidates have asked your humble columnist for advice on agricultural issues for their campaigns. For reasons that baffle me, virtually all of my common sense advice to them is ignored. All I received in return was a cup of tea and a donut.

To be fair city candidates and their handlers are not comfortable with specific agriculture issues because they are out of their depth and don’t want to appear clueless. An example of candidates stepping into issues of which they don’t understand the nuances was when former Premier Alison Redford during her leadership campaign supported compulsory OHS services and benefits for farmworkers. The issue haunted her when the industry and the ag department bureaucracy were able to thwart any effort to have OHS enacted.

It should be said that even having a Premier aware of agriculture issues is not a guarantee of enlightened agriculture policy or a new sense of direction for our industry. Former Premier Ed Stelmach was a farmer but his main claim to fame was to disrupt the commodity checkoff system by arbitrarily elimating the compulsory requirement. That resulted in much political turmoil that continues to plague the cattle industry to this day with much time and resources wasted on endless negotiations.

To save themselves from such annoying situations candidates and political parties tend to revert to those old safe standbys for their agriculture campaign platforms. They all promise to support the family farm, encourage more research to increase production and to find more markets for our food exports. The safe consensus for PC candidates is to revert to the status quo of past government policy as it seems to work. Besides the PC party is still convinced that rural voters are captive voters and see the Wildrose party merely as a temporary deviation, with voters soon returning to the fold. Their stubborn clinging to their misguided property rights legislation would support that perspective. In addition government politicians are loath to admit they may have made a mistake. But then again Wildrose supporters are hoping the PC’s maintain that attitude for the next election.

One does hope that one of the PC party leadership candidates might consider for instance a new progressive policy on developing the irrigation industry. This sector has been such an outstanding success since the original policy was pursued over a hundred years ago. The industry has contributed billions to the agriculture economy and has the potential to increase that significantly by encouraging new land to become irrigated. One senses a befuddled approach to the industry at present with the government announcing multi-million grants to irrigation infrastructure renovation, but not advocating further development of more irrigated land.

Another policy that candidates could support is making ecological goods and services a primary goal of government policy. It’s where ranchers and landowners are paid to conserve their land for ecological and wildlife preservation as a public service. It is a sure-fire way to save plant and animal species at risk and a good vote getter with urban folks. Well we can always hope for enlightenment.