Recent polling of voters has found that the ruling PC party is in serious trouble across the province and in particular in rural Alberta – that supposed fortress of PC power. It’s a shocking change from just a year ago and would indicate that the PCs should be considering a serious overhaul to reverse their fortunes. But that may not be easy for a government that over thirty years has become fat and arrogant. The first reaction of those that have come to believe power as an entitlement is usually denial and the presumption that voters will come to their senses by the next election.
In recognition that something might not be right, rumour has it that Premier Stelmach is considering a cabinet shuffle. That would be surprising as a shuffle would indicate that something is amiss and the Premier Ed Stelmach is not known for even thinking he might have made some mistakes.
If a shuffle is in the premier’s mind, he might consider shuffling the present Minister of Agriculture to the legislature backbenches where he can no longer do anymore harm. Along with the energy minister, the agriculture minister can be credited with considerable blame for the crash in PC party support in the countryside.
His presumptive approach to the Alberta livestock industry by telling them if they do not buy the government vision they might as well just go and do something else was insulting to many who have spent generations raising livestock. The minister’s much vaunted Alberta Livestock and Meat Strategy appears to be nothing more than a rehash of old ideas or pie in the sky wishful thinking – or as one industry leader said – it’s all about selling hope.
But the minister was decisive about one thing, anyone who dared question the vision was to be severely punished. The Alberta Beef Producers organization won the dubious honour of being the first ag producers organization in history to be singled out by the minister for de-stabilization for having the audacity to challenge his wisdom. In one swoop, he wiped the ability of cattle producers (and lamb, pork, potato producers caught in the vindictive crossfire) to fairly and adequately manage their own affairs and develop their industry by taking away their mandatory checkoff.
It would seem that the minister, feeling rather self-assured about captive PC voters in rural Alberta, did not even consider that livestock producers might be offended by his arbitrary action to destroy their organizations. It could be estimated that as many as 250,000 rural voters are directly connected to the livestock industry. There may well be many more other voters through family and related businesses that might also sympathize. That’s a lot of rural voters to upset, especially when they now see a realistic alternative to the present PC government.
In what seems like a desperate attempt to save the vision of the livestock strategy, the minister’s own livestock organization, the Alberta Meat and Livestock Agency, has been spending millions of taxpayer dollars on projects, and shamefully on itself, in the hope that something dramatic will happen. The minister has also gone on a number of foreign trade junkets to plead with buyers and foreign governments to take some dramatic action to save the Alberta livestock industry – I would suggest it is all to no avail.
If the Alberta government wanted to do something dramatic to stem its declining fortunes in rural Alberta, the premier should shuffle the present minister to the backbenches. He should install a minister who is not under the influence of a small group of feedlot operators and who is prepared to respect the democratic will of livestock organizations.
And yes, a new agriculture minister could admit that mistakes have been made and reverse the arbitrary decision on terminating the mandatory checkoffs for certain commodity groups. That would be dramatic and it might give rural voters the idea that their government actually listens. But don’t hold your breath for any such wise decisions from entrenched governments. The only time they listen is voting time and the next time that happens they may have wished that they had listened to voters a lot earlier.