For better agricultural policies, Alberta needs to speak out not to be taken for granted by politicians

Ahead of the Heard

The urban media have made much of the lack of interest by Alberta voters in the upcoming federal election. There does seem to be a deep cynicism by the electorate in the inevitable outcome. Be that as it may, that situation is somewhat self-inflicted when Alberta voters keep voting in the same culprits generation after generation. Not only does the winning party take such voters for granted, the opposition also writes off the province as being hopeless and even begins to see it as the enemy. Alberta voters lose either way.

If Alberta voters see themselves as being ignored, it becomes a double whammy if you are a voter involved in agriculture. That sector has been a low priority with all parties for the same reasons Alberta is ignored. Interestingly, there are aspects to federal agriculture policy that now get some attention, but not in a positive way by the city-based parties. This will only get worse the more urban Canada becomes.

The Conservative party approach is pretty predictable, that being the status quo policy as developed by senior civil servants over the past 50 years. Conservative governments have dutifully followed that policy which follows ag policy developed by previous Liberal governments. The only divergence is policy on the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) and the milk and poultry supply managed sectors. In both situations, the Conservatives have trapped themselves into an ideological strait jacket and seem determined to dig a grave just on principle. If they get a majority in the next election, the CWB and even supply management are in grave danger – only a revolt by Quebec/Ontario rural MPs and their provincial governments will save those entities. It’s too bad because in the case of the supply managed commodities they are the most successful sectors in Canadian agriculture – why anyone would want to wreck that success story just to prove a point is beyond comprehension.

Liberal ag policy isn’t a lot different from Conservative policy with many of the original programs that are now being carried out by the same civil servants who invented them. Being a city dominated party, they do support notions that their city supporters fantasize about farming. They support some hazy notion of the family farm that existed 50 years ago. Liberals have also embraced the agriculture lifestyle trend that sees organic food and locally produced food as the answer to making both farmers and consumers happy and healthy. Only the NDP and Green Party have more off the wall concepts about that area of agriculture. Liberals do support the CWB and supply management, so those sectors would be safe if Liberals or a minority government were to be elected. However, it would seem that there is a growing trend among Liberal MPs to question the further development of GM technology. One can see that intense lobbying by green groups have had a real impact on city MPs – too bad it’s so negative.

NDP ag policy has been transitioning more to what their city supporters perceive. The NDP is also in a ferocious death struggle with the Green Party, so they are attempting to recapture wayward green voters by adopting some of their policies. Hence the dumb NDP position on GM technology and their support of organic and local agriculture. The NDP does support the CWB and supply management. Some NDP positions seem to be the standard policy of the National Farmers Union (NFU) who see themselves as natural allies to the NDP and even Liberals. Both parties have in the past given a lot of credence to the NFU, even though it is a bit player in Canadian agriculture politics. I guess they are birds of a feather.

Probably the greatest threat to Canadian agriculture would be the Green Party. These are city folks who live in a complete delusion about the realities of Canadian commercial agriculture. They would set back farming to 1880! Yes an organic, free-range, local food, small family farm is a wonderful idyllic concept – but only if it could be economic and not reduce farmers to being serfs and peasants. If the Green Party would have a policy that pays small farmers their real cost of production then they might be believable. But how many of even their own supporters would be willing to pay $20 for five pounds of potatoes, I think not.

Don’t expect much change after this election, unless there is a Liberal/NDP coalition that could see some changes to GM policy. A Conservative majority will see much of the same although the CWB will be doomed. A Liberal majority will see no change or hope for agriculture mainly because such a majority will be overwhelmingly city and eastern-based. I expect agriculture like Alberta will be safely ignored by all parties during this election – as usual.