I would suggest that the concept of creating one united super-voice for cattle producers in Alberta is wishful thinking at its best.
Whether by circumstance or design, the delay in amending the refundable cattle checkoff is causing much consternation with many cattle producers and their affected organizations and agencies, not just in Alberta but across the country.
It’s also causing a lot of valuable time and energy to be wasted on political speculation and conspiracy theories, rather than on the real economic issues facing the cattle industry.
Soon after his appointment, Agriculture Minister Jack Hayden stated publicly that he would be reinstating the non-refund-ability of $1 out of the $3 refundable cattle checkoff. He said that would put Alberta back in line with the other provinces and other countries with a national nonrefundable cattle checkoff. This was seen by many as a common-sense step to rectify the shortsightedness of Bill 43. That enabling legislation saw the elimination of non-refundable checkoffs for cattle, hogs, potatoes, sheep and wool.
As the repercussions from Bill 43 begin to set in, it is becoming more evident that this legislation was seriously flawed from the very beginning. But that should come as no surprise when legislation that benefits a few is rushed through the legislature with no consultation with the majority. This must be one of the few pieces of legislation in the world where the number of cattle votes was considered more important than the number of people votes. Government legislators and human voters might want to keep that in mind when the next election comes around.
Democracy was also low on the priority list when one considers how the other affected commodities were arbitrarily thrown into Bill 43 in a sad attempt to rationalize an essentially political exercise aimed at cattle producers. If one doubts the political nature of Bill 43, ask yourself why dairy and poultry non-refundable checkoffs were not included in the bill. Those politically astute groups seem to have known what political wheels to grease. But I digress.
Minister Hayden has surmised that he wants to encourage the various diverse cattle-producer groups to unite with one voice and one could suspect that he using the delayed checkoff amendment as a stick. History would seem to be repeating itself with that idea. Those of us long in the tooth would recall that one of the reasons the Alberta Cattle Commission (now the ABP) was created 41 years ago was to provide one voice for the cattle industry. One of the groups that campaigned for its creation (and the checkoff) way back then was the Western Stock Growers Association, which is now the same group undermining (some would say) the single-voice organization they helped create.
I would suggest that the concept of creating one united super-voice for cattle producers in Alberta is wishful thinking at its best. Not one of the groups in the Beef Industry Alliance coalition has stated that it would disband in favour of a single united voice. I suspect they all perceive themselves as being the better voice of the cattle industry and that the other producer groups should disband.
Rather than pursue the concept of a unified voice, perhaps government and all cattle producers need to accept that diverse cattle producer organizations are just part of the Alberta cattle culture. The reality is that the economic interests of a cattle feeder with a multi-million dollar cash flow are radically different from a cow-calf rancher trying to make a living from a few hundred cows.
Why do we expect them to speak with the same voice? The reality is that their opinions on issues are both right. What the government needs to do is find some middle ground and not favour one side over the other. That’s not what the government did with Bill 43 and the consequences are coming home to roost.
Minister Hayden would also do well to adjust that legislation through amending regulations for other groups. He could start by giving the hog, sheep and potato producers their refundable checkoffs back and let them decide their fate. After all, they were never part of the fight the previous agriculture minister started.
We all know that governments are loathe to admit mistakes, but I expect producers and voters would be more impressed with officials and politicians that can at least go half way. That’s whats needed with checkoffs, and the sooner the better.