The recent B.C. election saw an unprecedented interest by political parties in agriculture and its future direction. This was unusual because, as in Alberta, political parties tend to either take ag and rural voters for granted as captive voters, or ignore them because there is no hope for voter support. It was the B.C. Green Party that took the first big leap in putting forth a detailed ag policy election platform. Amazingly their promises did not focus on returning B.C. agriculture to 18th century peasant communal farming practices, which is the fixation of so many other green political parties around the world. Instead it focused on investing tens of millions of dollars into increased production, preservation of existing farmland and opening up new land to agricultural production. On the surface that looked more like support for commercial agriculture rather than support for small-scale organic, anti-GMO, back-to-nature hippie agriculture one expects a B.C. Green party to be ideologically committed to.
From a political strategy perspective, it was a bold election move as those involved (or aspiring to be involved) in commercial agriculture would not typically be potential green voters. No doubt if one was to challenge any B.C. green party member on GMOs, chemicals, etc., one expects they would fall into line with traditional green philosophies. In this case, however, those issues were not first in their policy platform – perhaps they are now just taken for granted.
The B.C. Green Party election ag policy planks caught the two main parties off-guard causing them both to rush to shore up their own rather sparse election ag platforms. Not surprisingly, the B.C. NDP gave lukewarm support to exports and international trade in general as that sector involves commercial agriculture and processing, sectors generally not known to support NDP socialist philosophy. Instead, the B.C. NDP wants B.C. agriculture to shift more towards supplying the domestic provincial food market. That’s a great idea, but feeding more of BC’s 4.6 million people by B.C. farmers and ranchers would require more support for large-scale commercial agricultural production and that is the very sector that receives lukewarm NDP support.
The “Feed B.C.” election platform that the B.C. NDP used does contain one idea that should be considered by political parties in Alberta. Part of B.C. NDP ag policy would be a requirement that government institutions spend at least a third of their budget on B.C.-grown food products. Processors that want government supply contracts from B.C. hospitals would have to source, where feasible, 100 per cent of their products from B.C. One wonders if such a policy exists in Alberta – if it does not it should, and it should be mandatory for every institution, agency or educational facility that receives Alberta taxpayer dollars.
Sure, nitpickers are going to point out that such a mandatory buy Alberta food first requirement would be against our precious free trade principles and trade agreements, but does anyone really believe that such preferential domestic procurement policies do not already exist in other jurisdictions in North America or elsewhere? Sometimes our boy-scout attitude towards trade is quite amusing to our competitors. Maybe we should follow the precedents set by Americans and Europeans in inventing even more devious ways to thwart exports from other nations – softwood lumber to the US and beef to the EU come to mind as the most outrageous. What about a tit-for-tat with B.C. – the Alberta government will not buy B.C. products until they stop their campaigns against our energy products. I note that almost any B.C. food product can be replaced by a similar product either from Alberta or elsewhere. Sure, B.C. can retaliate against Alberta products such as beef for instance, but that is not likely as most B.C. cattle are fed out and processed in Alberta. But I digress.
I must also mention the B.C. Liberal party platform – it was hardly a barn burner. Essentially it supported the status quo – support for local marketing efforts and increasing exports. Incredibly their policy platform included a plank to increase agricultural land availability by over 90,000 hectares – what a new level of typical BC hypocrisy – that same party approved the development of the Site C dam in the B.C. Peace River district which will see the loss of over 10,000 hectares of productive farm and pasture land. It boggles the mind.
Are there lessons to be learned from B.C. ag election party platforms for Alberta? One only hopes that our provincial parties might show the same boldness.