Ag Politics In Alberta Are Interesting As Usual

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The principle should be that if non-refundable checkoffs are good enough for some commodities they should be good for all commodities under provincial marketing legislation.

One cannot help but wonder about the politics surrounding the recent donations to the Progressive Conservative (PC) party annual meeting by the Alberta Milk Producers and Alberta Turkey Producers marketing boards (see front page). The Liberal opposition tried to link the donations to big government grants given by ALMA to both of those groups. That makes for good political outrage in the legislature, but those grants were not the motive of the donations. Being an urban party, the Alberta Liberals rarely show any understanding of ag issues – so they missed the point.

I expect the donations by both of those boards were more of a strategic political move to shore up government support for supply management in this province. It’s a wise step, probably learned from their politically astute Quebec and Ontario cousins, being that the Alberta government is only a lukewarm supporter of marketing boards, if its negative attitude towards the Canadian Wheat Board is any indication.

I also suspect an ulterior motive might have been to stave off any thoughts of the Alberta government wiping out the nonrefundable checkoffs of quota boards. The minister singled out a group of ag commissions this year with legislation wiping out their mandatory checkoffs. The quota board non-refundable checkoffs were not included, even though all ag commissions and boards are governed by similar over-arching provincial legislation on how they operate.

Sure there are provincial/national legal and legislative arguments that differentiate quota boards from the others, and yes they have to recoup costs to operate the quota system, but that is separate from checkoff collections and its use. The reality is a commodity checkoff used to operate an organization is the same whether it is for cattle, hogs and sheep or for milk, poultry and eggs.

The principle should be that if nonrefundable checkoffs are good enough for some commodities, they should be good for all commodities under provincial marketing legislation. The minister has proven with his arbitrary decision on livestock and potato checkoffs that he doesn’t need producer permission or a plebiscite. I expect the quota boards instinctively know all this, hence this was perhaps an underlying motive for their donations to the PC party to stave off the idea or to thank them for not including them in the earlier refundable livestock and potato checkoff legislation.

But then, quota boards in Alberta and Canada maintain formidable, sophisticated political clout and they have the money to back up any political action. Heck, they can make the federal Conservatives stand at attention when it comes to the interests of supply management in trade issues. I suspect the Alberta government would be wary of attracting the wrath of the supply management industry if it tried to tamper with their checkoff system.

One can’t help but wonder that had the Alberta Beef Producers (ABP) and Alberta Pork organizations been making regular political contributions to the PC party, would they still have their nonrefundable checkoffs? One might also wonder if any of the groups involved with and the leadership of the Beef Industry Alliance (including the Beef Initiative Group) have any connection to the PC party through donations or memberships? One also can’t help but wonder how, for a small group, the BIA seems to pack such overwhelming political power with the Alberta government.

We may well soon see the political power of the BIA flex its muscle again. In an orchestrated effort across the province at recent ABP zone meetings, folks associated with the BIA proposed to take the cattle checkoff collection/refunding process away from the ABP and have it done by Livestock Identification Services or using livestock manifests. If the ABP does not agree to that proposal at their annual meeting, will they see the minister make the decision in BIA’s favour through legislation or regulation? Time will tell, but it seems to be politics as it has become to be expected in Alberta.

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