It was another one of those political incidences that causes rural and small-town Alberta to wonder, or confirm suspicions about the NDP governments attitude towards agriculture and life outside of the major cities. In the overall scheme of government big spending it was a minor incident involving $8.6 million to support Alberta’s 284 ag societies. The annual grant supports in part the operating expenses of those groups. That’s important being the societies manage, operate, or support assorted community halls, fair, rodeos, trade shows, rinks, to any number of events, festivals and shows of every kind. Most ag societies operate on a shoestring with volunteer help – except of course for the really big ag societies. The big dogs are the Calgary Stampede and Edmonton Northlands – last time I checked they too were registered Alberta ag societies. That gives them tax-exempt status and access to government grants and programs. For years those two city ag societies also received millions in grants from the Alberta lottery fund – ostensibly to support ag related events. With cash flows in the hundreds of millions of dollars, I would suggest that neither of those big dogs needs government grants. It would seem to be more appropriate to fund ag societies that mainly support agriculture and rural life. That basic tenet seems to have escaped this government – but to be fair their connection to folks outside of the big urban centres is hesitant at best with almost no rural MLAs in the NDP government. Don’t count on ag department bureaucrats either – many seem at times also far removed from the reality in the countryside.
The annual government funding was supposed to be dispersed by June but no cheques were in the mail. The annoying part for ag societies is that the smaller ones are highly dependant on those funds arriving on time. In what seems to have become a consultation bad habit with the NDP government, ag societies were not advised that program funding was actually on hold. It would seem that the Ag Minister was under pressure by the Minister of Finance to find savings in every government department. No doubt department bureaucrats figured the ag societies grant would be an easy target. But that backfired and the grant was released -cheques should be in the mail by October. It should be noted that this was for 2017, the government made no commitment to similar funding in 2018. With an election in 2019, I expect political expediency should guarantee the funding. But it all boggles the mind when the NDP government squanders billions closing coalmines and then quibbles about a small grant to rural life groups.
That does bring up another rural issue: the small towns that are going to be economically devastated by the premature closure of those mines that supply coal-fired electrical generators. For a long time, the NDP government would seem to not even understand that closing those mines and plants involved the loss of hundreds of jobs in rural Alberta – most with six figure wages. The loss of a few hundred politically-incorrect jobs may not mean much to city-based green-obsessed NDP MLAs but it sure means a lot to small rural economies. But then those rural and small-town citizens don’t much vote NDP and are not likely to – so they are seemingly politically expendable.
Finally, to show heartfelt sympathy to the plight of all those soon to be laid-off coal industry workers the government came rushing to the rescue. In one of those utterly out of touch scenarios that defines so many governments – a $450,000 grant was announced by the Minister of Economic Development to study economic diversification opportunities in the Hanna area. Community Action Teams are to be established connected to the Hanna Climate Change Task Force which seems to be connected to the Advisory Panel on Coal Communities. All of this busyness has already created some economic opportunities for government-favoured consultants and facilitators, more supervising bureaucrats and of course per-diems and expenses for all those folks appointed to task forces, teams and advisory panels. If you suspect all the reports to save the affected communities will be filed away to gather dust you are probably right. But wait – maybe the report will contain pie in the sky ideas about building windmill factories, organic food processing plants, and solar farms to employ all those laid-off coal industry folks. Perhaps, but more likely it will recommend more studies, more consultations…well you know how the story goes.