Last year I questioned the rationale, cost, and the very existence of the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency (ALM A). A year later I can report that basically nothing has changed much as to ALMA’s role in the livestock industry. Having said that, there have been some positive changes, which has seen a change of mind by some of its critics. Perhaps it’s all just part of an evolutionary process for the agency, as ALMA directors and management begin to understand their role and limitations in trying to save the Alberta livestock industry.
Let’s get the obvious elephant out of the way. If ALM A didn’t control the livestock legacy funds and receive tens of millions of dollars from the government to give away, it would have basically nothing to do or accomplish. Its principal role remains as a grant-providing agency, and therein lies some positive results ALM A can be proud of. Comments from industry organizations seem impressed with the professional and progressive approach ALM A directors and management have taken in regards to grant applications, and streamlining the process. Formerly when Alberta Agriculture was directly giving out grants, the whole process was somewhat of a mystery, with bureaucrats seeming to approve only what looked politically safe.
Credit has to be given to ALMA CEO Gordon Cove, faced with an agency that was under severe political fire, and that had already seen a turnover of CEOs and chair-people in a very short time, he undertook a determined PR campaign to soften the image of ALMA. He dispelled the perception that the agency was going to save the Alberta livestock industry. One annoyance in that PR effort: ALMA sort of takes credit for initiatives that were started by others, but it now claims as its own because it helped further fund them. But I quibble.
Perhaps the best action by ALMA was to expand the consultation process regarding livestock production, marketing and research issues. Most of those discussions do involve how and where to spend ALMA grant money, but to be fair, politics and trade issues are part of that process. Besides, industry organizations like to be consulted and massaged by governments and ALMA has figured that out, much to its benefit.
One area that ALM A seems to have backed off on is its international trade busybodiness. When the agency first began there was much fanfare as to how it was going to open up access to offshore beef markets. ALMA people accompanied the provincial agriculture minister on trade junkets, which saw press releases extolling the success of ALMA efforts. Sorry. Very few believed a provincial agency was going to have much impact on foreign protectionist-minded governments and it didn’t. Such activity best be left to the CCA, the federal agriculture minister and his Market Access Secretariat. The ALMA role best be left to enthusiastic committee member and cheerleader.
There is another young elephant in the room, and its going to be growing quite large and very soon. The Alberta government is determined to reduce the deficit and Treasury Board bean counters are going to be wielding the axe to department budgets. ALMA would be a tempting target for cutbacks of, say $20 million, that would knock the agency back severely. ALMA does have some fat – from April 1, 2009 to March 31, 2010 it spent $828,000 on director expenses, $1,067,000 on consultants and contractors and $730,000 on capital purchases. One pet peeve is that ALMA insists on leasing expensive private office space to pretend it is separate from government. That fools no one and there is plenty of space available in the Alberta Agriculture building in Edmonton, most of it vacated by department bureaucrats that were transferred to ALMA.
It’s hard to give ALMA a grade on its report card, being this agency is not going away. On the whole it has stuck to its main mandate of giving out money. To be fair it’s hard to gauge success from ALMA marketing, production and research projects since results tend to be incremental. Minister Hayden has stated that he was going to review the agency annually. But ALMA looks pretty secure being these types of quasi-government agencies are used by ministers to hide money and bureaucrats during times of cutbacks.
There remains some nagging questions – has it really made a difference, was it just a stalking horse to soften the termination of non-refundable livestock checkoffs, what happens when their money runs out, will it get its own checkoff to stay in business? What happens after the next election, one of the oppositions parties has suggested ALMA will be abandoned if it wins. I guess we will see next year at this time. Stay tuned.
Industryorganizationsliketo beconsultedandmassagedby governmentsandALMAhas figuredthatout,muchtoits benefit.