Hypocrisy keeps growing on thorny land-sale issue

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Ahead of the Heard

The urban media and their lobby group allies are once again mounting a PR assault against the sale of government land for agricultural development purposes.

It’s an old story filled once again with shameful hypocrisy by those that are the least involved. From the government’s perspective, they can’t win the PR battle no matter how transparent and open they make the process, but then they made some dumb mistakes in the first place.

Patient readers will recall that, last year, the government announced it would sell a large parcel of government grazing land to a large potato-growing operation. Much of the land would be converted to irrigated crop land. There is no problem with that process as that is how irrigation farming was started in southern Alberta.

It’s also an ongoing process with small parcels being sold or swapped by the government. However, it’s been a while since a large block was sold for the purpose.

But last year, instead of putting the land up for sale to the highest bidder in a transparent fashion, the government appeared to have cut some secret deal with a company that allegedly had made a financial contribution to the PC party. When the media caught wind of that, they went over the edge. Then when it was found that the existing users, a group of cattle producers who had a longtime grazing lease, were being shafted in the process, it made the government look even more callous and high-handed.

To add to the fire, a bunch of duplicitous lobby groups got involved making self-righteous statements about the loss of habitat for the local wildlife. The government not unsurprisingly got its back up and was determined to go through with the sale.

Luckily for them, the intended buyer decided to back out of the deal and the matter seemed to have been put to rest for a while. However, it seems the government just can’t resist sticking it to its critics and announced that the land in question was now being offered for open sale with the proviso that alternate grazing land be offered to the existing users. That seems fair enough, but as expected, a crescendo of protest quickly arose, again from the usual suspects, but then what did the government expect.

The protests came from groups whose positions on the issue were dripping heavy with hypocrisy.

The Alberta Wilderness Association is against the sale because of the loss of habitat and endangered bird species. Yet this same conservation group does not oppose the proliferation of wind farms that has destroyed thousands of acres of habitat and kills thousands of birds and bats every year.

The Alberta Fish and Game Association is also opposed to the sale, but for more selfish reasons. They want to preserve the land so their members can hunt and kill wildlife on the property. A prominent urban newspaper in Calgary, in an editorial, opposed the sale also because of the loss of habitat and grassland.

Somehow they forgot that they are responsible every day for the loss of wildlife habitat in the boreal forest because of their endless appetite for trees to turn into newsprint. It’s the same story for all these groups — do as I say, don’t do as I do.

One city newspaper columnist suggested that the sale would see more potatoes being grown for useless French fries. Really, perhaps he should have acknowledged that in Alberta thousands of acres of land are also used to grow malting barley for beer, wheat and rye for whisky and vodka, sugar beets for sweeteners and what about all those cattle being grown for fast-food hamburgers, or is all that striking too close to home?

What about the millions of acres in the world devoted to coffee, tea, wine and chocolate production — is that somehow better than growing potatoes for French fries? More do as I say, not as I do.

Curious, isn’t it, city folks protest the loss of land to agriculture, but remain silent about the loss of thousands of acres of land every year to subdivisions and industrial development in their own backyards.

The fact is we need more irrigated land put into agricultural production. It provides jobs and economic activity, regardless of what is grown.

With the attitude of the urban media and their lobby group allies, there would be no irrigation in southern Alberta and probably no agriculture industry. But we would have lots of habitat for the few people who would be living in the area and who could afford the time and money to go bird-watching and antelope-hunting.

Will Verboven is the editor of Alberta Farmer.

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