Frost concerns in May are an unwanted but not entirely unexpected weather pattern for Alberta farmers, but unlike some weather, political patterns can come out of nowhere. With the election of a majority NDP government in Alberta last week, many concluded that hell had, indeed, frozen over. That is one heavy frost, if I do say so myself.

Now that the shock is beginning to wear off and many people are thawing out, it is time to look out at the future of Alberta politics. Well, at the least the future that includes the next four years under the new NDP majority.

Although at once thought to be improbable, an NDP majority is a reality and much of the focus has been on how this will impact the economy and the oil patch, but not much attention is being paid to how agriculture will be impacted.

Some of the early reaction from the Alberta agriculture community has been that the world is coming to an end.

Much of this trepidation comes down to just how left the new government will be. Will Premier Notley and her government be Mulcair NDP’ers or something much more centrist in nature? Really, not many people know the answer to this at this point, and likely it will depend on the situation. Many in agriculture are hoping for a centrist approach to crop protection products, regulation of livestock operations (CAFOs) and water use.

I think you are going to see two types of conservative reactions from the agriculture industry.

The first is the more traditional reaction of “in four years we are going to fix you lefties.” You can add whatever nouns or adjectives to that sentence that you may be familiar with based on conversations you have had with your friends the past week. This kind of conservative believes that you cannot even reason with someone politically left of center. You won’t agree on gun control, marijuana legalization, religious freedom and so on, so why bother discussing agriculture policy?

Let’s be honest — the new NDP Minister of Agriculture is going to be as about as familiar with agriculture as many farmers are with the NDP

The second is the conservative that extends the olive branch and wants to communicate and cooperate with this new political regime. This group believes that even if you did not vote NDP in the election, it does not mean that you shut your door and refuse to discuss issues that were brought to the conservatives when they were in power for 44 years.

Can our industry afford to bury its head in the sand for four years or more and end up wishing it had taken the opportunity to discuss our industry with the new NDP majority? Let’s be honest — the new NDP Minister of Agriculture is going to be as about as familiar with agriculture as many farmers are with the NDP.

Without a doubt we need the people in our industry to not hold political ideological frosty grudges, but instead be this second type of Conservative.

Truthfully, I think very little will change for agriculture in the next two years in Alberta. This is where agriculture being a secondary industry in the mind of the public plays to our advantage. It is going to take the Minister of Agriculture at least two years just to be introduced to the industry and stakeholders. The industry needs to use this time wisely and really be the second type of conservative listed above.

We need the agriculture industry, from farmers to agri-business, to stay connected to this government ensuring our issues are understood through an agricultural lens and not only the lens of the Environment Minister.  [see what is happening Ontario with the Wynne government and farmers].  Our challenge to communicate is a heavy one considering how rural Alberta voted predominately Wildrose. You have a responsibility as a Conservative to assist the government to understand our industry and make the best policy decisions.

I wish us good luck, Alberta, and I hope that when hell froze over last week, your canola was not out of the ground.

2 thoughts on “Grappling with an Alberta NDP Majority: Don’t Let Your Frozen Opinions Last Too Long

  1. May 5th’s election results showed a shocking polarization between the rural vote and urban vote. That was the first thing I thought of when the results began to appear, and while I have heard people argue that the same polarization occurred in 1971 when the Conservatives overturned Social Credit*, I think that argument is frankly wrong. Alberta has some solid basic values, and one of those is that we need to stand together for one another across our different cultures and experience.

    Some of the biggest inherent cultural conflicts we saw over the past 44 years were when surface rights come into conflict with subsurface leases — oil versus farm. The NDP see themselves as relatively green, relatively pro-social-justice, and (I get the impression) pro-family-farm-and-all-that-crunchy-granola-stuff. I also realize that real-life agriculture is not so much crunchy-granola and more serious business, but that crunchy perspective should lead to the NDP being willing to listen to Agriculture. What is a bigger question to me is, will they be willing to listen to the Wild-Rose MLA’s who represent rural ridings, and will those Wild-Rose MLA’s be able to back away from confrontation and actually do their representing in a constructive manner.

    And as always, what can those of us in urban ridings, who are represented by NDP or Liberal or even-further-left Alberta Party MLA’s, do to decrease the alienation between urban and rural?


  2. In Manitoba we famously (or more accurately, infamously) have a left of centre NDP government. The NDP has been in power since 1999. Yes, that’s 16 long years. When they first took control, there was doom and gloom, but former NDP Premier and current Canadian ambassador to the US, Gary Doer, called his party the new New Democrat Party. It was centrist and ran reasonable budgets, with some surpluses and some deficits. He focused more than one would expect on industry. Roseanne Wowchuk was a competent and caring Ag Minister. When he retired and the premier’s post went to then Finance Minister Greg Selinger, the books have never looked redder since. This coincided with the worldwide recession, but still, Mr. Selinger has proven incapable of coming anywhere near a balanced budget and has remained all too ready to increase taxes at every turn.

    If Alberta gets a Doer styled NDP government, which I predict it will given the fact that Ms. Notley would probably like to be a multi-term premier if at all possible, I don’t believe there is doom and gloom. There will be a thoughtful, centrist government in Edmonton. We in Manitoba however are probably doomed to see more left leaning NDP governments even in the wake of incredible mismanagement of the books, education, health care, etc. Fortress Winnipeg primarily votes NDP and all rural ridings go Conservative, but with about 800,000 people in the Winnipeg area and less than half of that in the rural ridings, well, we get what we pay for.

    All the best to the Alberta Ag industry as it attempts to build ties with the new governing party.

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