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New Minister Has Some Issues To Resolve Or Bury

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It seems being minister of agriculture in this province is not a long-term occupation, as a recent cabinet shuffle once again proves. Newly-minted Premier Alison Redford has appointed Evan Berger, MLA for Livingstone-MacLeod to be our latest Ag Minister. He replaces Jack Hayden who has been moved, somewhat sideways, to be the new Minister of Tourism, Parks and Recreation. That now makes five ag ministers in the last eight years or so. Granted, the agriculture post is a tough ministry with its diverse multiple issues and mind-numbing disparate politics, but it seems as if it s becoming a revolving door. Even this new minister may not last long, as the premier has stated that she is planning a spring election.

In the meantime, the agriculture department is never without some pressing issue to deal with, and Minister Berger will be facing two sticky ones that his new boss brought up in her successful PC party leadership campaign. They are the land-use legislation and farm workers rights.

In the campaign, candidate Redford stated that she wanted to review some of the contentious property and land-use related legislation that the government passed in recent years. That would be the infamous Bills 19,24,36 and 50, all of which the opposition Wildrose party have made lightning rods for rural voter discontent. Wildrose has made repealing those bills the centrepiece of their agriculture policy.

Land use is not just an agriculture issue, but the owners of farm/ranch land and leases are some of the most affected. It would probably be politically astute if the government created some sort of grandiose review and consultation task force to derail and bury the issue until after the next election. That would probably cut the legs off of property rights as the major Wildrose party campaign issue in the countryside.

In the end, I suspect that very little change will be made to the land-use legislation despite any review process or the new premier s past musings. Much of the legislation was initiated by Ted Morton who is now minister of energy in the premier s new cabinet. He is a senior minister, political heavyweight and former PC party candidate, and I expect few will dare cross the godfather of the legislation. New ag minister Berger was also the previous parliamentary assistant to the SRD minister, so it s going to be tough for those guys to eat crow and support any real changes to the bills in question.

Farm-worker rules

Another issue facing Berger is one his boss brought up in the campaign, which was her view on farm workers Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) rights. She stated to theCalgary Heraldeditorial board that she was in favour of bringing Alberta farm workers under OHS regulations. Alberta is the last province in Canada without OHS farm worker rights. That s going to be a dicey situation for the new minister should the new premier insist that her position prevail. That s because the agriculture and labour departments under previous ministers supported a position that OHS should not apply to the agriculture industry. They even set up a symbolic joint government/ industry Farm Safety Council, which is supposed to encourage voluntary safety measures, in order to derail any demands for OHS regulations.

As with the land-use regulations issue, it s going to be hard for a minister and the bureaucracy to eat crow and reverse a policy that s been in place literally forever. If the premier insists on having her way, the minister could dodge any real action by appointing another committee to review the issue in the hope that the premier will then forget about the matter or see the error in her position on the issue. Ironically, the issue can be resolved fairly easily if precedence in the other nine provinces is considered. Alberta could actually lead this issue by including owners in the coverage.

I expect many in the industry will be sorry to see former Ag Minister Jack Hayden depart to another portfolio, but politics is notorious for its instability and intrigue and the intrepid Jack knows how to survive. He will be remembered for his canny political ability to salvage some of the cattle checkoff fiasco that his predecessor created. I expect it was not easy being agriculture minister when former Premier Stelmach, himself a farmer, was looking over your shoulder. I am sure Jack will not miss the political machinations of the agriculture industry and will enjoy the relative peace and quiet of the tourism ministry.

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Intheend,Isuspectthatvery littlechangewillbemadeto theland-uselegislationdespite anyreviewprocessorthenew premier spastmusings.

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