Ahead of the Heard
Most citizens would seem to be vaguely aware that there is a Progressive Conservative party leadership contest going on that will crown a new Premier of Alberta.
But I expect a lot fewer know that an Alberta Liberal party leadership contest is also going on at the same time. Citizens can be forgiven for their blissful unawareness about that contest. Although as many as 25 per cent of voters support Liberals, the party has remained in the political wilderness in Alberta since its defeat as a government in 1921, so it tends to be somewhat invisible.
It should be noted that although the “Liberal” word and brand has a somewhat toxic nature to it in Alberta, the provincial Liberals like those in B.C. are not quite the same as their federal Liberal party cousins.
The problem is the public assumes they are all cut from the same cloth, so the provincial Liberals tend to undeservedly get punished for the sins of the national party. In reality, a number of Alberta Liberal policies can be far to the right of national Liberal policies.
In a previous column, I reviewed the agriculture policies (or in most cases, the lack of policies) of the candidates running for the PC party leadership. I figured, to be fair, there should be a review of the agriculture policies of the Alberta Liberal party leadership candidates, being they are the official opposition. Alas, if you thought the agriculture policies of most of the PC candidates was dismal, the Liberal candidates came up even worse — if that is possible.
Now it should be noted that all the Liberal candidates are basically city folks, and those that are sitting MLAs represent urban ridings.
One would be hard-pressed to remember if the Liberals represented any rural seats in known memory. Therefore, one can expect that agriculture issues probably draw a blank with these candidates. I should say that the Alberta Liberal party itself does have agriculture policies, particularly around election times. Presumably, there is someone in the party that must dream them up.
Upon reviewing the websites of the candidates, I found that only two candidates even mentioned the word agriculture.
Candidate Bruce Payne mentioned the word, but in an off-hand sort of way. He did mention that it was important for the future of the Liberal party to connect with rural voters — gosh, what a revelation! Candidate Laurie Blakeman stated she supported sustainable agriculture. However, the word “sustainable” has become just another rhetorical, political buzzword that essentially means nothing.
Candidate Hugh MacDonald stated that he was born and raised on a family farm in P.E.I. Perhaps that background might have jolted in him some memory that an agriculture industry actually exists, but no, there was no further mention of it in his policies.
He did mention that he had a perfect 14-year attendance record as an MLA in the legislature. Well, at least he has accomplished something. From the remaining two candidates, Raj Sherman and Bill Harvey, there was not even the slightest allusion to agriculture.
Some of the candidates did not have actual policies on anything, but had visions or brief highlights of issues. But, others had robust policies and opinions that liberally heaped abuse on Premier Stelmach and the PC government. That is in stark contrast to the PC leadership candidates who generally are not in a position to criticize government policies and legislation they helped to create.
Two candidates did have policies that do affect rural landowners. They mentioned property rights and how they would repeal the Land Use Framework legislation and related bills.
That would seem to be a rather un-Liberal perspective, being there is a presumption that those on the left, such as Liberals and NDP, are more in favour of control and regulation. But then Alberta Liberals can be different.
In my previous commentary on the PC candidates, I made a list of industry issues that could be considered for agriculture policy.
Here they are again: the hog industry is on the edge of collapse, GM cereals need to be researched and promoted to compete with GM corn and oilseeds, the windmill industry and transmission lines need to be investigated and exposed, property rights need to be truly clarified and resolved, landowner environmental services need to recognized and compensated, shortline railways are in crisis, irrigation needs a new expansion vision, industrial bio-digesters need to supported, producer support programs need to address actual needs, and the list goes on and on.
My message to the Liberal candidates — be daring, take a chance and do something most PC candidates can’t or won’t do — initiate a bold insightful agriculture policy. If nothing else, it would show rural Alberta that some Liberals are aware that the agriculture industry exists — well, at least we can hope.