An Alberta farmer who is a former chair of the Grain Growers of Canada hopes to be an independent voice for producers in the Canadian Senate.
"It seems to be when you consider the importance of agriculture to the economy, I'd say at less than two percent of the population, we seem to get swept under the rug at times," said Jeff Nielsen. He recently announced his candidacy for the province's Senate election.
As part of Alberta's municipal elections, voters will be asked on Oct. 18 to select three nominees for the Senate from a slate of 13 candidates. Albertans will also take part in a referendum on reforming federal equalization payments, along with whether to get rid of daylight savings time.
Senators are appointed under the constitution by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and are not elected, unlike MPs. However, the Alberta government wants Trudeau to voluntarily choose from among nominees selected by the province's voters.
Due to the retirement Oct. 31 of Alberta senator Doug Black, there will be two vacant senate seats up for grabs. He was appointed in 2013 by then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper after being elected as a senator in waiting in 2012.
The Supreme Court of Canada advised Harper's government in 2014 that consultative elections for such appointments would empower senators with a popular mandate inconsistent with the senate's constitutional role as a complementary chamber of sober second thought.
However, Premier Jason Kenney said in a recent statement that Trudeau "showed contempt for democracy in Alberta" by appointing Banff Mayor Karen Sorenson to the senate on July 29 without waiting for the election.
Nielsen hopes to sit as an independent senator unaffiliated with any political party. The senate has "some very strong supporters of ag there and (I) greatly appreciate dealing with them, but there's one component missing and I guess that's a farmer in the senate."
He spoke to The Western Producer while taking a break from doing some touch-up spraying at his farm near Olds, Alta.
"One in six Canadians work in agriculture. We as Canadians produce, if not the best, some of the best grains and meats and products in the world."
However, it's a continual challenge to make governments aware of the issues that affect farmers, he said. "And that's where I kind of come back to the role of the Senate."
Besides leading the Grain Growers of Canada, Nielsen was president of the Western Barley Growers Association, as well as a director of both the Alberta Barley Commission and the Canadian Wheat Board. He has dealt on behalf of farmers with everyone from politicians to senior bureaucrats.