New government needs farm connections

Scary policies are often implemented when a government has few connections to mainstream agriculture. That’s the fear in Alberta with the unexpected win by Rachel Notley and the NDP.

Among the elected NDP members, there’s nary a farmer to be seen. Whoever becomes the new agriculture minister will have only a tenuous connection to agriculture.

There will be no shortage of groups and organizations lining up to give the new government agricultural advice. Unfortunately, a left of centre government is likely to give more credence to the left-wing voices, including environmental groups, who purport to know what is best for farmers.

Notley’s campaign platform on agriculture was scant.

Support for small Alberta brewing, value-added agriculture and food processing was mentioned, but there were no specifics. In another part of the document, there’s a pledge to work with small producers to eliminate barriers to local food production and marketing.

Local food production and marketing are fine as far as they go, and that stance will be popular in many urban circles, but mainstream agriculture is the true economic driver.

The platform promises a strengthening of land owners’ rights for fair compensation and due process in surface rights issues. On that issue, the NDP could win some friends within agriculture if it proceeds prudently. Of course, it also risks further alienating the energy sector.

The platform also contains the strange promise to stand up for farmers’ rights to save and sell their seed.

Farmers have never had the right to sell seed of proprietary varieties. With the passage of Bill C-18, Canada has joined UPOV 91 which strengthens plant breeders’ rights, but the ability of farmers to retain and reuse their own seed is protected.

Notley and her advisers were probably influenced by the fear-mongering of the National Farmers Union on that campaign plank.

Although there’s no mention of the supply managed sectors in the NDP campaign material, one can assume that an NDP government will be a strong supporter of the status quo within the dairy and poultry sectors.

If push comes to shove in Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations, Canada could be pressed to make changes in supply management to gain preferential trade access in other commodities. With an NDP government at the helm, Alberta is likely to oppose that course of action.

Manitoba and Ontario of examples of a lack of agricultural representation within government resulting in bad policy.

In Manitoba, the NDP government placed unreasonable restrictions on hog barn expansion. In Ontario, Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal government is placing severe restrictions on the neonic seed treatments.

The same worry exists in Alberta. Where will Notley get her advice? The bureaucrats within the department will try to be a steadying influence, but a new government with rookie cabinet ministers will be prone to missteps. If they let left-wing philosophy, anti-trade sentiment and overzealous environmental protection rule their decision-making, Alberta farmers and farmers across the country could be adversely affected.

An NDP win in oil country once seemed unthinkable. By comparison, an NDP win federally this fall now seems plausible. This could also be a government with little representation from mainstream agriculture and therefore prone to ill-conceived policies.

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