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Producers want recognition in Man. election

Farm group has identified the key issues, including education taxes and environmental management of farmland

In 2016, Manitoba farmers were desperate for change.

After 17 years of an NDP government, farmers and rural residents voted overwhelmingly for Premier Brian Pallister and the Progressive Conservative party. The Tories easily won every rural seat in the southern region of the province, including traditional NDP regions like the Interlake and the Parkland.

Pallister will try for a second term in less than two months, as Manitobans will choose a new government Sept. 10.

Fewer producers may vote this time because the election will happen in the middle of harvest, but Keystone Agricultural Producers wants rural and urban Manitobans to think about farmers and farming when they go to the polls.

“It’s relatively early … but we certainly want agriculture to be part of the discussion … and the significance we bring to this province,” said KAP president Bill Campbell, who farms near Minto, Man.

“We don’t want to be ignored or taken for granted.”

In a recent news release, KAP reminded Manitobans that agriculture contributes more than $6 billion to the province’s economy and creates more than 35,000 jobs.

For years, in the 2000s and 2010s, Manitoba farm groups were angry with the NDP government and had a long list of grievances:

  • Regulations that effectively banned construction of hog barns and government claims that hog manure was destroying Lake Winnipeg.
  • A 2011 decision to divert Assiniboine River water into Lake Manitoba, flooding agricultural land around the lake.
  • Provincial regulations banning pesticides on lawns, gardens and public parks, with an emotional news release announcing the ban in 2013.

“The way they rolled this media conference out, with doctors and stuff, it seems if you’re against this (pesticide ban) it would be like saying you’re in favour of poisoning children,” said former KAP president Doug Chorney in July 2013.

The rural hostility toward the NDP was evident in the 2016 campaign.

In certain rural constituencies, NDP supporters were afraid to put up campaign signs because someone might shoot at the sign or vandalize their property, a farmer told The Western Producer in 2016.

Emotions should be more restrained this election, but there are still a few hot button issues for Manitoba producers.

One is education taxes.

KAP has argued, for years, that farmers pay a disproportionate amount of the K-12 education costs in the province.

“Manitoba is the only jurisdiction that continues to use property assessments for the collection of education funding. We believe there needs to be a modernization (of the system),” Campbell said.

Another issue is environmental management of farmland.

In June the Manitoba government announced a $52 million endowment fund to support Growing Outcomes in Watersheds (GROW), a program for protecting wetlands on agricultural land.

GROW is a payments model, where participating farmers will receive per acre payments for ecosystem services, such as preserving wetlands.

KAP has supported such a model in the past, but its leaders have concerns about GROW.

“We (KAP) were never consulted…. We would just like to be included in the conversation,” Campbell said. “If we don’t have the discussion with the primary producers, who own the land and operate on it … we just question how valuable or how good the program will actually be.”

The PC party and Pallister have a huge advantage going into the Sept. 10 election because they won 40 out of 57 seats in the 2016 election.

The NDP and Liberals only have 17 combined, meaning they would have to win back 12 seats just to form a coalition government.

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