Ag critic should choose his words wisely

Southwest Ontario New Democrat Malcolm Allen is an affable, hard working second term MP who is putting much time into learning the intricacies of the arcane world of agricultural politics.

Since being named his party’s agriculture critic after last year’s election, he has traveled the country to meet farmers and to get a better feel for the diversity of the sector.

He also has faced more public and media scrutiny as Official Opposition critic for a significant portfolio.

And some days, that scrutiny comes back to bite him when he doesn’t choose his words carefully.

Earlier this year, Allen raised eyebrows with an over-the-top reaction to a new rule that allows vet inspection of animals slaughtered off-site if they were unable to be transported to a packing plant for slaughter.

The MP saw it as a weakening of food safety rules and claimed that it could allow “road kill” to end up on store shelves.

The meat and retail industry was none-too-pleased at the false insinuation. The Conservatives mocked it as hysterical and uninformed opposition criticism.

And Allen said he was simply trying to get attention focused on the issue. Mission accomplished.

A rookie mistake, perhaps.

Then it happened again last week.

At a Parliament Hill news conference to call for a more vigorous federal response to this summer’s Ontario drought, Allen said instead of promising help, federal agriculture minister Gerry Ritz won’t even answer farm organization letters on the issue.

According to an audio transcript of the news conference, a reporter asked which farm groups had sent unacknowledged letters.

“We’re looking at the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, which is the largest in the country,” Allen replied.

At the CFA summer board meeting in Toronto, that response had farm leaders scratching their heads.

The CFA had not sent a letter on the topic to the minister.

It turns out it was another slip of the tongue.

The letter actually was from the Ontario wing of the National Farmers Union and it had been sent to Ontario agriculture minister Ted McMeekin, copied to Ritz.

So there was no need for a federal response to the call for government help, even if Ritz had been inclined to respond to the NFU – certainly not one of his favourite farm groups.

Mea culpa, Mr. Allen.

These days, people pay attention to what you say.

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