Alta. Green candidate tackles Tory juggernaut

Bridget Lacey, the farmer and mother of two young boys from Turner Valley, is campaigning in Foothills, where she’s up against Conservative incumbent John Barlow.
 | Karen Briere photo

BELLEVUE, Alta. — It’s not easy being a Green Party candidate in Alberta.

Bridget Lacey can tell you that firsthand.

The farmer and mother of two young boys from Turner Valley is campaigning in Foothills, where she’s up against Conservative incumbent John Barlow.

Conservative blue is projected to sweep the province, wiping out four Liberal gains from 2015 and the single NDP seat.

At an all-candidates forum in early October, the Liberal and NDP candidates didn’t appear. Nominated near the end of the nomination period, Cheryl Moller and Mickail Hendi, respectively, don’t live in the riding and Barlow says they aren’t actively campaigning. Greg Hession is running for the People’s Party of Canada.

Lacey agrees that Barlow will win, but her plan is to keep talking about Green ideas and policies with a view to changing some minds.

“I’m finding it a bit tough,” she said of the campaign. “I’ve been laughed at right to my face. People think it’s hilarious that I’m running for the Green Party in Alberta because it’s such a long shot.”

However, at the time of this interview, Lacey was actually polling second behind Barlow. Even though there was a vast distance between the two, she took comfort that she was ahead of the two other main party candidates.

Her goal is to get voters to think of the Greens as more than a one-issue party.

“There’s not a lot of open minds,” Lacey said. “To me it doesn’t make sense. The Greens (have) the best plan for transitioning to renewable energy and making sure we do reduce our carbon emissions in a very significant way, quickly, so we can prevent global runaway climate change. That’s such an impact on farmers.”

Lacey still lives on the cattle and vegetable family farm where her father was a pioneer of certified organic greenhouse vegetables. Her mother managed the Millarville Farmers’ Market for 15 years.

“Climate change is one of these things that’s really going to affect farmers, and taking it seriously is something that we really need to look at,” she said.

One Green proposal is a $2.5-million land and quota trust program and farm apprenticeship to help small farms get started. Lacey said she believes smaller, more diversified farms could withstand climate change better because they don’t rely on a monoculture that could be wiped out in one natural disaster.

She agrees the fund is only a start.

“I know how much it costs to make a farm. There’s a lot that goes into building farms from scratch.”

But she said new ideas have to be put forward if agriculture is going to survive a changing climate and she plans to continue talking about them after the Oct. 21 vote.

For Barlow, the campaign is important even though it appears to be a slam-dunk.

“My constituents deserve a member of Parliament who is going to work extremely hard on their behalf,” he said. “They do not want to see an elected official who is mailing it in and I am just not wired that way.

“I absolutely campaign like we are 10 votes behind.”

Barlow, a former newspaper editor, has represented Foothills since a 2014 byelection. Serving on the international trade committee, he has taken the Liberals to task for the various market access issues Canadian producers are facing.

“Trade issues are number one,” he said of what farmers are telling him. “That comes up at just about every single door.”

Barlow said farmers see all the decisions the federal government has made with regard to Canada’s Food Guide, transport regulations, neonicotinoids and others and are frustrated because they weren’t properly consulted.

With a wet, snowy harvest season, and business risk management programs that may or may not help, he expects anxiety levels to rise.

But whether a Conservative government would address issues in a way that satisfies farmers or not doesn’t necessarily matter when it comes to voting.

Farmers tend to vote Conservative because they’ve been socialized to do so, said University of Calgary political scientist Melanee Thomas.

It’s an identity, she said.

“The socialization I got as a rural Alberta farm kid was that no government cared about farmers,” Thomas said.

Voting Conservative, therefore, goes beyond farm policy and issues to what University of Saskatchewan political science department head Loleen Berdahl called the “warm fuzzies.”

She agreed that policy is not driving the vote.

“At this point the vote coming out of the rural West is primarily coming out of identity,” she said.

The phenomenon is true in the United States as well, where conservatism is part of the rural identity.

“A sense of ‘that’s how I vote, that’s how we vote’ can set in,” Berdahl said.

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