Bad labels can stick, former premier warns agriculture

Brad Wall says the forces that branded Canadian oil as dirty could easily end up doing the same with agriculture

Former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall recently told agriculture to take a branding lesson from the energy sector.

Speaking alongside former New Brunswick premier Frank McKenna at a panel during Canadian Western Agribition held in Regina Nov. 19-24, Wall said the same forces that worked to brand all Canadian oil as dirty don’t like modern agriculture.

“Governments, including the one that I led, have been flat-footed in terms of defence of the industry,” he told the crowd regarding oil. “The industry itself has been very much flat-footed in terms of defending itself.”

Wall said well-funded non-governmental organizations and environmental allies were able to convince people that all oil is dirty and they could be coming for agriculture.

He noted the so-called Leap Manifesto, developed by a coalition of authors, artists and activists and supported by some politicians, that calls for an end to oil and gas, mining, and modern agriculture.

“So is that the next target?” he asked. “We ought to be ready.”

Wall noted that marketing is already targeted toward people’s fears and lack of scientific knowledge.

“Consider that you can go to a store in Saskatchewan today and buy a finished product made from oats and the label on the oats will say GMO-free,” he said. “There is not an oats crop that is GMO on the planet. That label is so powerful …notwithstanding the fact that there isn’t any science that backs it up.”

McKenna said Alberta should rebrand itself as the world’s largest laboratory of environmental technology.

He said there are thousands of scientists working at technologies in conjunction with the oil and gas industry.

“The end result is that there’s less water depletion, the amount of reclamation that’s taking place is absolutely stunning,” he said.

Oil creates an immense amount of national wealth and McKenna and Wall both said Canadians should be outraged at how the resource is treated.

“Let’s not be stupid here. We’ve got reserves that are good for 50, 60, 70 years. This is our wealth forever. Other countries in the world would not treat the resource the way that we do,” McKenna said. “Our obligation as stewards of the planet is to make sure that we use every technology available across the planet to produce that resource at the lowest cost and with the best environmental standards. I think we’re doing it.”

On carbon tax, Wall said the federal government knows that it won’t cut emissions unless it’s at least $200 per tonne. Canada is responsible for only 1.7 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases, he said.

“We’re going to risk the fact that these carbon taxes will work, we’ll risk trade exposed industries, we’ll risk our competitiveness as a country and if the risk is somehow mitigated and this works … we’ll have saved the planet 30 percent of 1.7 percent of emissions,” Wall said of the $50 per tonne tax that will be in place by 2022.

“It’s my belief personally that Canada would be well served by leadership that took a much broader, more progressive view on global emissions.”

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