Lack of ag agenda limits Sask. Party accountability

There is no better hint that the Saskchewan Party believes the province, and agriculture, is set to en-dure some challenging times than in the party’s scarce platform commitments.

Brad Wall’s party made it a practice not to overpromise in the election campaign. In fact, much of what is listed in the section on agriculture in its 32-page platform centres on what it had already done, or that the NDP didn’t do, or did wrong.

There is very little about what lies ahead. It’s true that Growing Forward 2, which marries provincial and federal funding programs, governs many agricultural initiatives, but it would have been useful for voters to see the Saskatchewan Party’s vision for agriculture and rural areas in the coming years.

Growing Forward 3 consultations are underway, but there is nothing quite like getting a party on the record during the election campaign as a method of holding its feet to the fire. Note how support for the Manitoba government of Greg Selinger went into a tailspin after a 2011 campaign promise not to raise the sales tax was later breached.

Such things matter. The Saskatchwan Party was never really in danger in this campaign, and so perhaps it felt that running on its record, rather than laying out an agenda, was sufficient. (Which explains its decision not to introduce a budget before the campaign.)

When asked about his party’s agriculture platform during the campaign, Lyle Stewart, who was the agriculture minister in Wall’s government, replied: “As far as ag goes, we generally try to let the industry lead. There’s been no hue and cry for new ag programs. We’ll just continue to be supportive of the industry.”

Pragmatic, perhaps, but hardly a vision.

Still, the industry did speak out. The Agricultural Producer’s Association of Saskatchewan produced a document calling for numerous issues to be addressed, including improved rural internet and cellphone coverage, investment in rural roads, better grain transportation and better water management.

The Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities echoed some of these.

The NDP’s platform was brimming with policies — such as they were — on agriculture and rural areas, including improving cellphone coverage and expanding SaskTel’s broadband internet services, which are vital for farmers and all rural citizens.

The party also vowed to work with the federal Liberals to improve AgriStability and AgriInvest. Both programs have not faced much pressure during boom years of high commodity prices, but may be squeezed in the future.

The NDP also vowed to improve grain transportation systems, and to see that input prices and grain sales were posted weekly, which could have an important effect on farmers’ marketing efforts.

Could the NDP have delivered? We’ll never know, but at least we knew its agenda, and hence, its pressure points.

As Stewart’s quote shows, the Sask-atchewan Party felt it didn’t need to lay out a strong agenda, other than to say its record — which largely took place during years of strong commodity prices — is an indication of how it will act in the future.

That gives the government too much wiggle room.

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