Manitoba MP at home in farming country

Conservative MP James Bezan takes in a cattle auction while campaigning for re-election in the Manitoba riding of Selkirk-Interlake-Eastman.  |  Karen Briere photo

Federal election: Conservative candidate is a former cattle producer who has represented constituency since 2004

ASHERN, Man. — James Bezan is as comfortable at the Ashern Auction Mart as he is in the House of Commons.

The incumbent Conservative MP, running in his sixth campaign, is in friendly territory among the cattle producers watching the Wednesday cattle sale.

He is one of them, after all. The former cattle producer, manager of what was then known as the Manitoba Cattle Producers Association and order buyer has been an MP since 2004.

Selkirk-Interlake-Eastman is expected to vote him in a sixth time Oct. 21. His opponents are Detlev Regelsky for the Liberals, Robert Smith for the NDP, Green candidate Wayne James and People’s Party of Canada candidate Ian Kathwaroon.

“I got into politics because of BSE,” Bezan said.

“I think I’m still young. I feel young. And I can still make a contribution. Most people here are still very supportive.”

Bezan’s responsibilities the last several years have focused on national defence, but agriculture is the focus in his riding.

He said Justin Trudeau’s actions as Liberal prime minister have hurt farmers at home and abroad.

In this region, drought and poor hay crops have put tremendous pressure on cattle producers. Bezan asked federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau for AgriRecovery assistance but she declined, suggesting that AgriInsurance is the first line of defence and that current programs would have to do.

“Crop insurance is just way too cost prohibitive and only works on tame forage,” Bezan said.

“This is the reality. They are completely out of touch with rural areas.”

A Conservative government would focus on trade and a solid relationship with the provinces because agriculture is a shared jurisdiction, he said.

“We need policies that promote the trade our industry depends upon and show respect to farmers,” Bezan said.

He said farm support has to be re-examined to provide greater flexibility, particularly within the suite of business risk management programs.

Bezan also has concerns with Canadian Food Inspection Agency regulations, Canada’s Food Guide and livestock transport regulations.

The Conservatives have said, as part of their environmental policy, that the contribution agriculture makes to carbon sequestration should be recognized through a financial reward program like Alternative Land Use Services.

At the auction mart, farmers greet Bezan like a long-lost friend, teasing him about their votes and some of the campaign headlines so far.

Producer Robert Netner said he knows he can count on Bezan to represent the industry and that farmers can take their issues to him.

Conservative candidates are largely expected to win Manitoba’s farm vote, as they did last time. The 2015 election saw seven Liberal, five Conservative and two NDP members elected to Parliament.

Royce Koop, head of the political science department at the University of Manitoba, said Manitoba has always been a three-party province, but this election will likely see a return to more Conservative seats and what he describes as the status quo.

“In the last election the Liberals basically hit their high-water mark,” he said.

Winnipeg Centre, Kildonan-St. Paul and Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia-Headingly are three Liberal seats in play.

Koop said the absence of Trudeaumania in 2019 means “a return to a more natural competition in Manitoba.”

The Liberals won’t lose all their seats unless disaster strikes, he said.

For example, if a cabinet minister like Jim Carr were to lose in Winnipeg South Centre,“that would mean the Liberals have really tanked. That would be a surprise.”

Carr is running against Joyce Bateman, whom he defeated in 2015 and who was an MP in Stephen Harper’s government.

Polls throughout the election campaign have been fairly steady and as of Oct. 9, was showing the NDP could lose one of its two seats in the province, while the Conservatives could gain two. Two were showing as toss-ups: Saint Boniface-St. Vital and Winnipeg South. The Liberals currently hold both.

Candidates of note in Manitoba include former Keystone Agricultural Producers president Dan Mazier for the Conservatives in Dauphin-Swan River-Neepawa, who should hold the seat after Robert Sopuck’s retirement, and Steven Fletcher, a former Conservative MP, then Progressive Conservative MLA and then Manitoba Party MLA, who is now running for the PPC.

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