The party leaders speak on farm and rural issues

Close race The results in rural ridings can’t be 
taken for granted in this critical election

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Until this time most elections in Alberta were foregone conclusions before they were even called. In the same light agricultural issues usually barely saw a mention. And rural and small-town voters usually did their duty and voted the ruling PC party back in for another term.

But it’s different this time around. There is a sense that an epic election battle is underway — this seems to happen every 40 years in Alberta.

To try and raise the agricultural issues interest in this election, I planned to engage directly the party leaders by posing them all the same questions. This rarely happens in Alberta as leaders either assign other candidates to deal with the ag media, or when asked about agriculture, recite the usual platitudes and bromides of the party ag policy (if they even have one). It’s the safe approach for political parties, when on the whole their leaders are usually urban folk who have little understanding or interest in agriculture, the province’s second-largest industry. Yet those same leaders are well versed on energy, health, education and a host of other issues.

At press time a survey showed the Wildrose Party ahead in rural Alberta. I figured with almost half the ridings in the province deemed to be rural, that survey should spark some interest in rural and ag issues. It did — but not with all parties.

The journey to get party leader involvement has been quite challenging, being you have to deal with suspicious campaign managers. Time was a problem because of our early publishing deadline. We publish twice a month and because of the election date and Canada Post deliveries this is the only edition that we knew for sure would arrive before the election date.

Alberta Farmer contacted the five political parties for an interview with their leaders. The parties all responded with interest, and time and dates were discussed. But as I learned many years ago, the ag industry and ag publications don’t rate much of a priority in the eyes of urban-focused campaign managers.

The NDP did indicate some initial interest, but did not pursue the offer. That’s no surprise, I expect they understand the hopelessness of spending time and effort on rural ridings where only divine intervention could see an NDP candidate win. It would also have meant a crash course for their leader learning about ag issues and they probably figured his time is better spent elsewhere.

The Wildrose Party on the other hand knows their election destiny is based on capturing rural ridings, so ag issue awareness is a high priority. Being in striking distance of winning the election, their enthusiasm for immediate, knowledgeable co-operation is understandable. Their leader Danielle Smith was well versed on ag issues, thanks in part to her extensive touring and consultation in rural areas during last year’s Wildrose leadership campaign.

The Liberals were enthusiastic about an interview, but admitted their leader wasn’t up to steam about ag issues. But they are happy political warriors and were willing to make an effort to have their leader be part of the discussion. It turned out to be a delightful interview, and it turned out that their leader, Raj Sherman, came from a dairy and sugar cane farm in India. It turns out he had the closest connection to agriculture of all the leaders.

Alberta Party Leader Glenn Taylor showed real interest and made a genuine effort to research ag issues and he provided a robust interview. In preparation for the interview he consulted extensively with his candidates that had ag backgrounds. He admitted that it was quite a worthwhile exercise, being he is now much more aware of issues facing the ag industry.

The ruling PC party initially showed a positive interest in having their leader Premier Alison Redford participate in the discussion on ag issues. I was even given a time for the interview, albeit for only 15 minutes. But at literally the last minute PC party staff decided even that was not possible and they cancelled the interview. I should say that the premier herself may not have been even aware of what has occurred, being leaders are sometimes kept out of the loop by party strategists who figure they know best.

In the end three out of five leaders are part of the ag issue discussion — that’s not too bad for what I believe may be a first time for the farm media in Alberta.

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