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Federal Election Is Over…Now What For Agriculture?

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It was hard to notice in Alberta, but there was a federal election. That probably had to do with the usual universal prediction that there would be no change to the political landscape in Alberta, which proved to be true. Such a prediction usually results in being ignored by federal political parties, which also proved to be true.

The only excitement was in the sole NDP riding, which saw the incumbent retain her Edmonton seat despite a furious onslaught by the Conservatives, who view such an election result as an aberration in their solid fiefdom of Alberta. That exception is an oddity, as voting Conservative is seen as a tradition and part of our culture and image. It’s a political attitude that baffles those outside of the province – even the Alberta versions of the NDP and Liberal parties are more conservative than their brethren in other provinces.

Agriculture didn’t receive a lot of attention in the campaign, but that’s not unusual. With an ever-shrinking voter base, agriculture can be ignored by all parties. The Conservative and Liberal ag platforms tend to be variations of the same thing (except for the Canadian Wheat Board). Only the Green Party promises to reverse agriculture to a 19th century model of Old MacDonald’s farm, but then that tends to be the idyllic perception of farming of their urban supporters. One change is that the newly revitalized NDP may now have a new perspective on agriculture, being that many of their new MPs come from rural Quebec.

The Conservatives are now in a position to force through their ideological goals that were thwarted by previous minority parliaments. For agriculture that will be the Conservative promise to eliminate the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) or at least to reduce its powers to start its slow death. Astute CWB employees would be wise to start sending out their resumés, as the CWB’s days would seem to be numbered. There may be a bit of a respite as the CWB may not be a priority, being the Conservative government has a big hit list of other issues. On the other hand being it doesn’t affect a lot of voters, and the government could fast track the CWB issue through Parliament and claim a quick victory for one of their promises.

On the whole, the Conservative party platform didn’t have a lot of new agriculture policies so for now it is business as usual. That reflects more the power of the entrenched bureaucrats than any competent Conservative governance. For example, in past elections the Conservatives promised to completely overhaul and change agriculture support programs. Once in power the only thing they really changed were the names of the programs. There were some campaign murmurings that the AgriStability program could be made more effective in dealing with immediate market or weather calamities, but don’t hold your breath.

There is no reason to believe that Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz won’t be reappointed, although, the prime minister may want to reward Ontario for providing him with so many new Conservative MPs, many of them from rural areas. Ritz is from Saskatchewan which has been a Conservative bastion; that province could be safely ignored in favour of the more politically fickle Ontario. However, Ritz has kept himself out of trouble and been a loyal party soldier. He has worked hard for the free trade side of agriculture working tirelessly to open new markets. For the supply management side he has at least not openly threatened to eliminate them, but those folks remain very suspicious of his true motives, especially now that the Conservatives have a majority.

That may soon come to light at the ongoing EU and WTO trade talks if the Canadian government suddenly changes its position on protecting supply-managed commodities at the trade level. The expectation is that the feds will at the least throw the CWB under the bus. The national dairy and poultry boards would be wise to crank up their lobbying machinery, especially towards Ontario Conservative MPs being Quebec’s influence on Conservative party fortunes have been greatly diminished by this election. The best supply management groups can hope for is that this government will focus all its energies on beating up the CWB and forgetting about it.

The plus side to a Conservative majority is that the GM issue will be off the table. The NDP opposition with their Liberal and Green Party allies will probably make attempts to revive the issue over the next few years, but Conservative majorities at the committee level would stop those initiatives in their tracks. Perhaps this new political situation will also send a message to Agriculture Canada bureaucrats that they need to curb their enthusiasm and promotion of organic agriculture. Their efforts and financial support for that dubious type of production far exceeds any real benefits to the majority of Canadian farmers and ranchers who already produce safe and wholesome food products.

Probably the best that can be hoped for is that the new or reappointed federal agriculture minister stays out of mischief by spending most of his time outside the country promoting Canadian food exports. No doubt supporters of the Canadian Wheat Board will be hoping for just such a work plan.

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Agriculturedidn’treceivealotof attentioninthecampaign,but that’snotunusual.Withanever-shrinking voterbase,agriculture canbeignoredbyallparties.

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