The NDP’s majority win was a big surprise, and now Alberta’s new ag minister and his chief critic have another one — they want to work together.
Oneil Carlier, a rookie politician now in charge of both agriculture and forestry, and Wildrose ag critic, Rick Strankman both told Alberta Farmer they’d rather work together than be adversaries.
“I’m a very collaborative kind of guy, and I’m looking forward to working with him (Strankman),” Carlier said in an interview May 29.
“I think we both have the same goal in mind, and that’s to promote the agriculture industry within the province.”
Strankman echoed those comments in his interview, even though the duo had yet to meet.
“If through the agriculture minister, I can affect some greater agriculture development, I think that will stabilize people’s fears (of an NDP government),” said Strankman.
“I’m a farmer and an optimist. I’m just going to try to do the best I can and work with people like Minister Carlier to make things better for agriculture in the province of Alberta.”
- More on the Alberta Farmer: Who are Oneil Carlier and Rick Strankman?
So what might a co-operative approach mean on the ag file?
Not surprisingly, Carlier wasn’t talking specifics just five days after being sworn into cabinet.
“It’s a cliché — steep learning curves — but I suppose that’s what it was,” said the rookie MLA from Whitecourt-Ste. Anne.
“I’ve been going around to different people in the ministry and listening to what they have to say.”
Premier Rachel Notley has given herself and her team the summer to come up with a full budget and develop priorities — and “that’s going to take a lot of my time,” he said.
“But it’s going to be interesting and a good time to discuss what agriculture and forestry need in the budget,” said Carlier, who has an ag background but has most recently been a union rep.
“We have a few months to get our heads together and move forward toward what we think Alberta needs.”
But he also promised stability and “no major changes in agriculture” — other than a new name: Agriculture and Rural Development will now go under the handle of Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.
“(Rural development) is still in the mix within the ministry. There might be a few things shuffled around, but otherwise, I don’t want people involved in rural development to think they’re going to be left out.”
When Carlier is ready to move into action mode, Strankman will have some advice — and some specific suggestions.
The Altario farmer first stepped into the public spotlight in 2002 when he and 12 other producers were arrested for hauling wheat across the border to protest the CWB monopoly. But these days, his priority is helping agriculture become a bigger economic engine, which would help “take the province off the roller-coaster of the energy development sector.”
“If we can do it in an environmentally sustainable and economic way, it would create jobs and create sustainable income for the province,” said Strankman, the MLA for Drumheller-Stettler since 2012.
“I think it’s something Alberta seriously needs to take a look at.”
That means fostering and investing in domestic processing of agricultural commodities, he said.
One example is the Rahr Malting plant near Alix. The company’s Alberta division is a star in the rapidly expanding world of craft beers thanks to its alliance with Lagunitas Brewing Company. The sixth-biggest U.S. craft beer maker sources all of its malt from Alberta, but Rahr now faces “environmental restrictions” that may hinder its ability to grow, said Strankman.
“I think that it would be a coup if we could get a malt plant of that calibre to double its size within the province,” he said. “The economic driver that something like that creates is marvellous.”
Two other files — the minimum wage and workplace safety regulations — have Strankman on alert.
Notley has pledged to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2018 with the first — as yet undecided — increase to take effect in October.
That could hurt Alberta’s meat processors, among others, said Strankman.
“We need to maintain the stability of those industries and process our agricultural products in any way we can efficiently and effectively.”
Potential changes to Occupational Health and Safety regulations are also on his radar.
“It’s important that people be safe in their occupations, but it’s also important not to simply create regulation that may be totally unproductive,” said Strankman.
“If it creates a safety environment, I’m for that. But you cannot legislate intelligence.”
For his part, Carlier is promising to consult, listen, and ensure agriculture has a strong voice at the cabinet table.
So his first order of business during his initial week on the job was to call the chairs of Alberta’s commodity groups.
“I was able to talk to a lot of stakeholders and industry people, and it was great,” he said.
“Though these are leaders and stakeholders, they’re also farmers in the industry, and I really appreciated that I was able to discuss with them as producers, as well as industry leaders. I think we have a start of a good rapport with all of them.”