Sask. ag minister prepares for election night

Bob Bjornerud is sporting a relaxed look for his fifth election campaign.

The Melville-Saltcoats Saskatchewan Party MLA has served as agriculture minister through the four-year term of the Brad Wall government elected in 2007.

His time in the portfolio, during which he has dealt with drought, flood, low prices and federal and provincial colleagues, was likely more difficult than campaigning in his east-central Saskatchewan riding.

Still, he isn’t taking re-election for granted.

“I don’t predict anything. It’s not a slam-dunk by any means,” he said in an interview. “It’s politics. It can change.”

He said he is less nervous than he was in 2003, when he was up against a former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister running as an independent, a Liberal-turned-New Democrat cabinet minister and a well-known Liberal candidate.

To complicate matters, he had initially lost the Saskatchewan Party nomination to the independent candidate, Grant Schmidt, and regained it when the party executive stepped in.

“That was the most lively one we’ve ever had,” he said of that campaign.

He finished with 39 percent of the popular vote that year, compared to 62 percent in 1999 and again in 2007.

This time, he is running against NDP candidate Leonard Dales, a farmer who also works for the Sunrise Health Region in maintenance, and the Green Party’s Jordan Fieseler.

First elected as a Liberal in 1995, Bjornerud joined the Sask. Party upon its formation two years later.

Bjornerud said he is comfortable running this time on the government’s record.

The lack of new policies or promises in the Sask. Party election platform is not a sign the government is taking its rural base for granted, he said, and farmers haven’t been particularly critical of the document.

He isn’t hearing specific requests from farmers, unlike previous years.

Crop and cattle prices are strong, the weather co-operated for a long fall after a soggy spring, and farmers seem pretty happy with their lot, he said.

He also hasn’t heard from very many who want spot loss hail back in the crop insurance program.

That’s a main plank of the NDP agricultural platform. The party has allocated $50 million each year to reinstate the coverage.

“I don’t think that’s doable,” Bjornerud said. “The federal government would not cost share as they did before.”

The NDP has said it wouldn’t reintroduce spot loss hail in exactly the same form as before, and Bjornerud said that probably wouldn’t sit well with those who do want it back.

Private companies and Saskatchewan Municipal Hail offer the coverage and competition provides for reasonable premiums, he said.

“Our dollars are probably better diverted into other crop insurance and AgriStability programs,” Bjornerud said.

Despite two years of wet conditions, farmers haven’t been clamouring for more aid than they have received through the federal-provincial excess moisture programs, he said.

Good yields and quality in many crops this year, combined with good prices, are likely responsible for optimism among grain growers, he said.

Meanwhile, Saskatchewan Party leader Brad Wall recently used the backdrop of millions of dollars of farm equipment to highlight what he said his government has done for farmers.

At the grand opening of the new South Country Equipment dealership just east of Regina, Wall listed the many hundreds of millions of dollars that the Saskatchewan government has spent on farm support programs, including crop insurance and special relief for flooding, as well as an 80 percent cut in education tax on agricultural land.

Establishing a food security institute is one initiative in the Saskatchewan Party platform.

Preliminary funding for the institute is pegged at $1 million. It would be housed at the University of Saskatchewan.

As well, Wall said not enough attention has been paid to agronomic and technological research for crops such as wheat. Instead, the focus has been on pulses and special crops.

NDP leader Dwain Lingenfelter outlined the agricultural measures in his platform, reinstating spot loss hail coverage, in Yorkton Oct. 31.

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