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New Ag Minister Could Change Political Fortunes

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One of the tipping points for the former minister was when he told cattle producers that if they were not prepared to accept his new livestock strategy they could just as well quit the business

In the last edition I speculated that we might soon have a new agriculture minister in Alberta. Little did I know that was exactly what was to happen. My basis in coming up with that speculation was a poll that showed 44 per cent of rural voters favoured the upstart Wildrose Alliance party – compared to 25 per cent for the ruling PCs. That’s a catastrophic political shift against the party which is used to owning every rural riding by divine right, but therein lies the heart of the matter.

After almost 40 years in office, governments develop a sense of entitlement which grows into contempt and arrogance. That attitude has seen the PC government impose policy changes on the agriculture and energy industries from a presumptive “we know best” attitude. Changes to the energy royalty structure have devastated the fragile economy of many small towns and rural areas. Arbitrary changes to agriculture policy have shown the government to be not only arrogant but dismissive of families that have spent generations raising livestock. Bad economics and an uncaring attitude are a deadly mixture for any government’s image, and the poll showed the result.

I expect the political braintrust of the PC party can read polls and placed much of the blame for their political misfortunes in the countryside on the ministers of energy and agriculture. Both lost their posts. In my view, what caused the former ag minister’s demise was his ill-fated assault on cattle producers and their main producer group, Alberta Beef Producers (ABP). His arbitrary actions generated much negative perception of the government in the countryside. It exemplified government arrogance, and add to that the devastation caused by energy policy blunders. It’s no wonder the countryside has turned against the PC party.

One of the tipping points for the former minister was when he told cattle producers that if they were not prepared to accept his new livestock strategy they could just as well quit the business. That seemingly heartless declaration did not go over well with the thousands of families who had been raising cattle and other livestock for many generations. Then when you arbitrarily punish their organization, the ABP, for having the audacity to question the strategy, you should expect people to begin to see this government in a different and negative light. That’s especially dangerous when there is a political alternative on the horizon.

REVERSE BILL 43

There are other tipping points I could mention, but what the new ag minister Jack Hayden may want to address is how to quickly undo the damage to the government’s and agriculture department’s image as uncaring, arbitrary, undemocratic and in the pocket of small but powerful interests. So Jack, here are just some of my sure-fire suggestions for salvaging the government’s political butt in the countryside:

Admit a mistake was made and restore the mandatory checkoffs back to the cattle, pork, lamb and potato producer groups and let them democratically decide that issue.

Consider matching the checkoff income of all commodity boards and commissions and get out of the grant business. Let those producer groups decide for themselves what they need to research, promote and develop. Heck, you’ll probably save millions in layoffs and department meeting costs.

Terminate ALMA. This bureaucrat-inspired boondoggle will soon have little to do (see aforementioned) and besides with impending spending cuts looming, this agency will soon have no money to do anything anyway.

Take an honest look at the government’s position on the Canadian Wheat Board, it has real value, perhaps you need to see what it can do with some positive imagination to make it better. Our foreign competitors hate the board with a vengeance, that means it must be doing us more good than we realize.

Actively protect and promote our quota boards, like it or not, they are the most successful, profitable and stable sectors of the Canadian agricultural economy.

And finally:

Stop going on foreign trade junkets (unless you plan on taking my wife and I along at your expense). Those trips serve no purpose being trade is a federal responsibility and all you end up doing is bumping into the federal ag minister in exotic locations.

Former ag minister George Groeneveld made an honest effort to try and make changes to what is a difficult and diverse industry, but he could have had been more politically astute. But times are changing on the political scene in Alberta and there will be more political casualties to come.

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