Real ag platform AWOL in Alberta election

None of the political parties is willing to understand agriculture and rural concerns

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CALGARY, AB, Apr 28, 2015/ Troy Media/ – One would think that with such a tight race in the Alberta election, political parties would try to give rural and small town voters an incentive to vote for any of them. No sign of such enlightenment can be seen.

When it comes to agriculture, food and rural development policy, none of the political parties has given rural voters much of a reason to vote for them.

With the success of Wildrose in rural and small town ridings in previous elections, one might expect that both the Wildrose and PCs would be vigorously promoting policies to regain or maintain those ridings. Curiously, neither party seems to be much interested in creating a vision on the future of agriculture.

Rural issues an afterthought in Alberta election

Unfortunately, it appears the political brain trust (mostly urban-based strategists and consultants) treats agriculture and rural issues as afterthoughts. It is amusing how astonished city folks are when they discover that agriculture and food production is the second largest economic industry in Alberta. Even party leaders often look bewildered during their farm photo ops as they recite platitudes about how they support the family farm.

Apparently, the political brain trust treats agriculture and rural issues as mere afterthoughts during the Alberta election

The PC and Wildrose both offer the usual bromides about opening new markets, removing red tape, better risk management and protecting the agricultural way of life. Most parties tout their dedication to protecting rural health services, but I expect few voters in the countryside believe those promises, given the fact that a centralized urban-focused health authority makes the decisions.

The NDP, with dim hopes in rural Alberta, doesn’t have much of an agriculture policy platform. The Liberals make few promises except on the farmworker rights issue, which they have valiantly supported. The Alberta Green Party does mention agriculture and food in its platform; it is in favour of a return to organic farming, which is reminiscent of 18th century peasant-style organic subsistence.

Property rights were a big reason Wildrose gained the seats it did in the previous election and the party is trying to keep that horse alive in this campaign. However, unlike the previous PC regime led by Alison Redford, the PC political strategists advising Jim Prentice realized they needed to neutralize the Wildrose political advantage. The PCs passed a property rights law, although analysts admit it is mostly smoke and mirrors and the intent of existing property rights legislation will remain relatively unchanged under a PC government.

To those lamenting the absence of any real agriculture or rural policy during this campaign, your humble columnist is offering the following policy ideas:

  • Make a formal covenant that guarantees rural and small town residents will receive medical services equal to those received by city residents.
  • Support and expand the STARS emergency services to improve the respond time for all areas outside of major cities.
  • Provide transportation subsidies for citizens who have to travel more than 25 kilometres to larger centres for medical services.
  • Increase available acres and construct new infrastructure to expand commercial irrigation agriculture in Alberta.
  • Begin an extensive range rehabilitation support and subsidy program to return traditional rangelands to their original productivity.
  • Pay landowners for maintaining ecologically sensitive areas to preserve endangered plant and animal species.
  • Provide tax credits to producers who develop and maintain progressive environmental and animal welfare practices.
  • Construct regional industrial bio-digesters to process organic residues, such as manure and food waste from feedlots and food processing industries.
  • Financially and legally support landowners who are threatened by nuisance lawsuits and federal government actions on environmental issues.
  • Require, where possible, that all perishable food products sold in Alberta be irradiated, a food safety process that will significantly reduce food poisoning.

Any party that adopts the above would see their popularity increase significantly with voters outside of the main urban centres. But I suspect that – as usual – no political party is willing to understand agriculture and rural concerns.

Will Verboven writes on agricultural issues for Troy Media.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by all Troy Media columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Troy Media.

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