AF: Supply management is the most successful sector of Canadian agriculture. Yet it does not fit with those who favour free market ideology. What is your party’s position on the future of supply management in Alberta?
Sherman: Supply management has delivered safe milk, egg and poultry products to consumers at reasonable prices that are quite stable and it’s provided our producers with income stability. We realize that our markets look very attractive to dairy and poultry producers in other countries where costs of production may be lower. And their leaders may be pressuring our national leaders to open up this trade. It might be something we’d have to take up with Ottawa.
Smith: Our membership hasn’t taken a position on supply management one way or the other. We don’t think we can do something on this at the provincial level. Our members did take a position on the Canadian Wheat Board and we supported the federal government, which is why I was able to speak on it vocally. I haven’t gauged where our members are on this. At this point, silence means we will stick to the status quo on the supply management issue.
Taylor: We recognize that it is federally managed and we understand that there is a push by big food business to get rid of the supply boards. We don’t see a huge push by consumers or the supply-managed groups to get rid of the system. We develop our policies by consulting with the people affected and experts in their field and try to bring common sense to the issue. As far as we see the system is working well, it provides a safe and secure source of eggs, poultry and milk and our producers are receiving a secure source of income. Supply management is a cornerstone of the ag economy of Alberta
AF: Does your party support provincial government research into genetic engineering of barley and wheat, which are mainstream crops in Alberta?
Sherman: Research should be as broad ranging as possible so that farmers can access grain varieties and technologies that meet their needs. We need genetic engineering to make the production leaps needed. We are supportive of research as a matter of principle.
Smith: I understand we do plant-breeding research in the province and we have no problems with genetically modified crops grown by farmers. Alberta has an opportunity to be a leader in plant breeding so we support research. We don’t have a position one way or another on GM research, but we support maintaining the plant-breeding research being done right now.
Taylor: Yes, we support GM research into those crops. We understand that can lead to better yields and we believe that good science can lead to good results. We understand that there is a demand for organic crops, but we also believe there will be a demand for GM crops and we believe in market choice.
AF: What is your position on the sale and development of more public land for irrigation and more publicly funded development of irrigation infrastructure?
Sherman: Any sale of public land should be by an open and transparent process. We believe that the development of that land, for irrigated crops, housing or other changes should involve open public consultation including consideration of its ecological value. We know irrigation investment has been good for Albertans. Irrigation farmers have been able to produce bigger, better crops with less water through improved irrigation efficiency.
Smith: Irrigation is one of our greatest agricultural opportunities. The economic results are pretty compelling. But I haven’t heard of any proposals from the irrigation districts for any expansion but we are open to any ideas. We need to look at the economics, but I am open minded to any proposals.
Taylor: We believe that development needs to proceed in an open and transparent method. We support what the Alberta Irrigation Projects Association is doing in helping developing and renovating irrigation infrastructure. We believe investing in technology to conserve more water for irrigation. We support more development in irrigated production, but we want it done in a responsible way. It shouldn’t be political or based on emotion.
AF : The government has indicated that it will be initiating a review of water allocation in the southern Alberta area. What priority in your view does agriculture have for water allocation?
Sherman: We will work within the goals of the Water for Life strategy. Irrigation is a huge part of this goal. Southern Alberta would not have the vibrant economy it does without irrigation. We’ll need to hear all viewpoints in looking into the most responsible way to manage the South Saskatchewan River Basin. We believe that water for human consumption comes first, but agriculture is sure a close second.
Smith: We support the first-in-time, first-in-right principle for allocation. Irrigation districts have been the first in usage and it seems to be working right now. It’s more an issue of water management and in our policy our members have stated they want more opportunities for on- and off-stream storage which would increase allocations. I do worry with the present stewardship act that the government has the right to reallocate water rights without proper compensation or recourse to the courts. We think that is the wrong approach.
Taylor: We want to engage everyone in the discussions. First we want to ensure a safe supply of drinking water to the residents of Alberta — that’s our first priority. Agriculture would be second because of course we have to eat. We have to recognize the expanding demand for water for residential, agriculture and industrial use. We can do this more efficiently. But we don’t support water becoming a commodity, where water licences are sold to those with the deepest pockets.
AF: What is your view on public funding or tax credits for ecological services provided by landowners?
Sherman: To some extent we do this by compensating farmers for predator damage for instance. We realize farmers provide us all with valuable service by caring for the ecology of their area. We’d be open to discussions on providing some benefit — tax credit or funding to compensate the farmer/landowner for ecological services that benefit us all. Harmonizing production agriculture and ecological benefits is in everybody’s interest and is something we’d want to be part of.
Smith: I think the Nature Conservancy, the Southern Alberta Land Trust and others are doing a good job getting easements and compensation for landowners. I haven’t heard anything about more tax credits, but we are open to listening. I am a believer in the voluntary approach to this matter and oppose the stewardship act having government making the decisions. The concept of paying people to keep land in a pristine condition is something I am generally in favour of. We need to look at all the options to make that work.
Taylor : We support methods that allow farmers to receive payment for conserving land in such areas as ecoservices, carbon capture, no till and others. We want to assure landowners that there is a value in keeping land as it is.
AF: Will you repeal Bill 43 and allow cattle, sheep, hog and potato producers their democratic right to actually vote on checkoff refundability?
Sherman: Each industry should be entitled to decide for itself how its marketing and research organization is funded and what activity, so we would favour allowing producers to vote. I recall this legislation and discussed it with some producers, it was contentious, and I understand it caused a lot of division between cattle industry groups.
Smith: That issue divided producers right down the middle and arbitrarily repealing it would probably divide the community again. Anytime you are making decisions that affect the producer we believe that it should be done by plebiscite. We heard that there was a demand for more accountability, we also heard that there should have been discussion on a directional checkoff. At this point we would have to have a consultation with all those involved before any action is considered. There should have been a democratic vote at the beginning. We have 16 candidates with an agriculture background so I expect that this will be a robust conversation.
Taylor: We are not interested in doing that unless we hear a large groundswell of support from producers, which we are not hearing. I don’t understand the issue in great detail. We do believe in consultation before actions are taken by government, not after.
AF: Wind farms continue to be controversial. Would you favour a complete third-party review of that business to get to the real story?
Sherman: We are in favour of more transparency, but feel this should go beyond just this sector and include related utilities. For instance, we will end the cabinet’s ability to approve power lines in secret without public input. We will force power companies to conduct their business honestly — market manipulation will mean significant fines.
Smith: We are against subsidies to private business that create an unlevel playing field. We don’t want to see an unfair advantage to certain sectors, some feel there is a disadvantage against coal. It seems to me right now in Alberta with our natural gas resources, that is the best way forward for more power generation.
Taylor: We are in favour of a diversified electricity generating system. But we are not in favour of propping up an industry with subsidies. If it’s profitable let the free market reign. Yes we would favour a review of wind power generation to see if it’s actually profitable. We need to get a better understanding of all methods including generating power on farms. We need to review the entire system.
AF : Does your party support keeping the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency?
Sherman: Yes we support keeping it. The initial investment in the single agency for research and market development has been made. If changes are needed, better to change ALMA than to start again from scratch.
Smith: Once you create something arbitrarily, you don’t want to remove it arbitrarily. When it was first created there were a lot of people frustrated that these decisions were being taken out of the hands of industry. Obviously we will want to have a consultation whether it has served its purpose or what it should be. I am very concerned with it getting into business giving direct subsidies to individual firms. I don’t mind the idea of doing research.
Taylor: Yes, we want to keep it. It funds research for the industry and that’s good for the future of the livestock industry and for the next generation.
AF : Do you favour the legalization of hunt farms in Alberta?
Sherman: We have no policy on this matter that I am aware of, but from a personal view I don’t support this idea. I support hunting in the wilderness and that is where it should be.
Smith: It’s a big issue and we are divided on it, our MLAs will have a free vote if it comes up again in the legislature. It divides urban and rural; we have not taken a position on it.
Taylor: It’s not something we have discussed so I am not well informed on the issue on either side of the question.
AF: What is your position in including farm workers and farm owners in mandatory OHS and WCB programs?
Sherman: It would help farm workers whether they’re temporary foreign workers in greenhouses, market gardens or workers in other more extensive operations. Other provinces can do it, why not Alberta? We could consult farmers and find out challenges. I am an emergency room doctor so I am well aware of what accidents and injury can do to devastate lives. I have also seen instances of child labour in the Fraser Valley. We believe workers and operators need this type of protection.
Smith: I am sympathetic to farm workers getting proper coverage. But I don’t believe government should be regulating family homes or the family farm and the two are sometimes the same. We can’t have officers interfering with the family home. But workers do need coverage; I don’t know if WCB is the only answer. I understand that there may be better coverage under the insurance a lot of farms already carry. There are many options that we need to look at.
Taylor: I feel we need good safety rules on the farm, but when it comes to the industry side we are going to have change. We have bigger, larger farms using bigger equipment, we need safe working conditions for the employees. There is a challenge with the family farm; how do they get work done? We have to wrestle with what is a corporate farm and what is a family farm. We believe agriculture is a heritage industry and we need to protect its viability, but we also need to recognize the changing world we live in.
AF : Property rights and the government legislation surrounding it is a controversial issue with landowners. What is your party’s position on the legislation?
Sherman: It is undemocratic to make decisions in the cabinet room without open consultations or even reasons, and denying a landowner recourse to the courts following such actions is medieval. Government should make its policies based on an open process that Albertans can put their faith in and ministers must be able to defend those policies without the perception that government would take action against people who offend them.
Taylor: The whole process needs to be reviewed. There are good parts to the legislation, but flawed policy comes from a flawed process. It all needs to be revisited; the problem is people don’t trust the process. We need to see what works, and what didn’t but we don’t believe it all needs to be thrown out. We are not interested in fear-mongering, but we believe it can be made better.
Smith: As Wildrose’s position on landowner legislation is well known, we did not submit this question to Danielle Smith.