Some flesh on the Five Year Plan bones

(Follow me on Twitter: @EdWhiteMarkets)

Today is Manitoba’s Speech from the Throne, so we should get some sense of the main foci of the re-elected Greg Selinger NDP government and any substantial farmer-oriented policies they are planning.

All Throne Speeches are weak on details and strong on good-sounding words that are vague but enticing enough to keep us all tuned for further details, and this one probably won’t be any different. The point is to signal the general tenor of the coming legislative session and the government’s priorities. Being the first one since the election, it may give us a look at the next five years, and that’s where farmers can be both hopeful and anxious.

We should get more details on the coming Five-Year Economic Plan and whether that includes much specific for the beleaguered hog industry, for flood-beset cattle grazers and flooded-out crop farmers.

I must admit my head did a snappy yo-yo thing yesterday when I walked by a billboard for the Five Year Economic Plan. Something about that terminology . . .

From the Manitoba Government website, and also on billboards.

I’ve seen this before but I always find it alarming. It seems to recall the string of Five Year Plans initiated by a certain formerly hostile nation. (WARNING: Long digression begins here.)

Soviet worker's "Shock Worker of the Tenth Five Year Plan" badge

Soviet worker's "Shock Worker of the Tenth Five Year Plan" badge

Here’s a Five Year Plan poster  from the Peron regime of Argentina.

Argentinian Five Year Plan poster

The dozens of Five Year Plans imposed by various regimes around the world through the 20th century aren’t always well-remembered these days. Here’s a Soviet-era reference that has fallen into neglect.

Now before you jump to the conclusion that I am accusing the Selinger government of being communists or revolutionary socialists, note that I am just referring to the terminology of the Five Year Economic Plan. I assume some humorous jackanapes in the administration inserted that term in an early discussion of coming economic policy a few years ago and didn’t want to point out its alarming historical precedents when it was surprisingly adopted as the official name quite a while ago. I, a sometime-jackanapes myself, once referred to a newspaper publisher I worked for as The Great Helmsman, and that was a sly and snickery reference to another prominent leader.

Helm me a river

And he wasn’t a communist and probably not even left of centre. It was just a bit of fun with cold war era phrasing. And I might point out that South Korea has also done Five Year Plans, and that country is a card-carrying member of the free world. And while folks on the right love calling everyone on the left “socialists” and “communists,” the Selinger government seems mostly centrist with moderate leftish tendencies and hardly the sorts of folks in this, my favourite video.

(END OF OVERLONG DIGRESSION) So back to the point: we should get some sense of the provincial government’s priorities this afternoon, and whether it is planning any special for farmers as the Five Year Plan continues. That “special” could be good-special, or bad-special. The Selinger government alarmed most of Manitoba’s farmers in the lead-up to the provincial election by seeming to blame farmers for the water woes of Lake Winnipeg, and this followed years of neglect of the hog industry during its crisis and harsh and unscientifically-based construction moratoriums on hog producers. The hope of most farm groups I have spoken to is that the government was just playing populist politics in the run-up to the election (the hog industry is a big bogeyman for people in the NDP’s base) and that now the government is comfortably re-elected and free from political worry, it can turn to more sensible economic and agricultural policies.

After all, Selinger has a Ph.D. from London School of Economics, clearly understands finance and economics and where tax money comes from, and seems like a nice man. So he really isn’t the kind of guy you would expect to attempt to shut down a major industry. Yesterday he sat with the head of Maple Leaf Foods at the announcement of a major expansion of pork processing in Winnipeg and that’s gotta communicate something about the value of pigs to Manitoba. It is Manitoba’s most important value-added ag industry.

But farm groups will be worried until clear signals are sent that they aren’t going to be made Enemy Number One in the next few years. The worry among all the farm groups that joined the Manitoba Pork Council in objecting to the Save Lake Winnipeg Act is that it is the thin edge of the wedge, and that farmers beyond hog farmers will be targeted by unreasonable phosphorus controls. About 87 percent of the phosphorus applied to Manitoba soils by farmers comes from commercial fertilizer used by crop farmers.

Other things farmers will be watching for:

* Funding for farm groups. Keystone Agricultural Producers has fought long for stable funding. The NDP said it was willing to provide an enforceable refundable checkoff for KAP – and the National Farmers Union. This is probably too small a thing to make it into a Throne Speech.

* Money to pay farmers for environmental protection. NDP likes using a number of different programs. KAP pushed for a general program.

* Action on the Canadian Wheat Board: the Selinger government has been a strong supporter of the CWB’s monopolies. Will it go beyond talk and into any sort of action? Others might be planning legal action. What about the Manitoba government?

* A big water plan: floods ravaged both crop farmers and cattle producers this spring, and most groups think a general provincial watersheds plan needs to be developed to minimize problems of spring flooding.

This morning on CBC radio Selinger sounded rested, confident, reasonable. Farmers will be hoping that extends to ag policy.


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