Residents of Rural Alberta, Forget those feelings of Entitlement – You’re nowhere near as important as you once were but MAYBE the Times are a Changing
I had the privilege of being a resident of rural Alberta in the heady days of the Peter Lougheed era. At the risk of sounding nostalgic, those were the days. Peter Lougheed who came to power in the mid seventies in my opinion, was a man of vision, ethics and values. Lougheed led this Province and never found the need to get out in front of the parade of popular opinion. He ruled this province and the Conservative Party with a gentle nudge, a persuasive smile or an iron fist; or whichever combination he judged was needed that day. He never moved uptown. He was genuinely concerned about all Albertans in every walk of life. That was also the era of Grant Notley of the NDP and I have tremendous respect for the way that man was the conscience of the Government. He made question period at the Alberta Legislature real and meaningful and made Government accountable. When his plane crashed we lost a great Albertan, one who had the respect of most government members and Albertans.
Those were the days when rural Alberta had some clout at the Government table. Lougheed’s formula was simple.
1. Love your Province and your Country and respect its residents.
2. Be evenhanded and principled when forming policy for the good of all Albertans.
3. Surround yourself with smart guys and gals that did not look on politics as a lifetime profession but as a necessary contribution to Province and Country for a limited time period and then return to the private sector. Remember Lou Hyndman and Neil Crawford and people like them. What bench strength.
4. Be well informed about the issues, pick a course that you felt best and then follow it even though that course might not be the most politically expedient and popular in the short term.
I had the good fortune to attend some of the Provincial Political conventions in those years. On the Sunday morning of each convention there would be the closed session with the Premier, where about 600 people would meet and hear about Lougheed€™s vision of the future of Alberta. It’s probably as close as I’ll ever get to hearing something like the Gettysburg address. It is one of the fondest memories that I have of my political involvement. After speaking to the attendees for about two hours if Lougheed had said, “My speech is now over and the doors are about to open. Outside those doors is a 500 foot cliff and we will all walk out those doors to a 500 foot drop with the end result being that it is for the good of our Province and Country, there is no doubt in my mind that there would have been a lot of takers. Powerful, very Powerful One left that room pumped with belief in our Province, our Government and our ability to achieve the unachievable.
But, Peter Lougheed was the ultimate political tactician. In those days rural Alberta had some political clout. In order to form the Government all he had to do was to carry rural Alberta, pick up a few seats in Calgary and Edmonton and the majority was his. The year 2000 was the first year in Alberta that a government could be elected in this Province without having one rural seat. This is quite similar to the situation in Ontario with the GTA being able to elect Premier Dalton McGuinty to two consecutive majorities with limited rural support. Having political success in rural Alberta simply is not as important as it once was, and it is reflected in how Politics is played in this Province and our Country these days.
The Present Evnironment
1. Rural Demographics Have Changed
We simply don’t have the numbers of people to make the difference that we once did. We can’t strategically put the numbers in the chairs at the Legislature, and so we just aren’t as important in the global scheme of things.
2. Agriculture has been relegated to second class status in this Province and Country.
We have moved from a flagship part of the economy to the status of ugly step sister or a tolerated liability. An industry can only go to the well so many times before getting it’s act in shape and the well is dry as we can’t anti up the votes anymore. The Caucus questions I’m expecting now start out with “Not you guys again or I just want to know when this is going to end and you in this industry will fix this.” The golly gee defense just isn’t cutting it anymore.
3. The Residents of this Province are either one more generation removed from the Farm or they are imports that do not share in this Countries€™ Rural Heritage
Nostalgia doesn’t cut it anymore. Many urban Albertans don’t have a warm and fuzzy feeling when you talk about rural Canada. We have had a lot of bad press recently about Environmental Degradation, Animal Rights and Factory Farms. Rural Canadians, and more specifically those directly involved in Agriculture are no longer regarded as good people exhibiting the qualities of values ethics and integrity, but rather as miners of a resource and not good stewards of the land.
4. People don’t connect the Food they buy with the Agricultural production it takes to make it available to consumers.
The more urban the population becomes, the less they understand what it takes to produce the food we grow, the lengths gone to make it safe and where in fact it was produced.
5. Those in urban environments don’t value or understand what we do.
Anybody been to Calgary lately? There is an attitude in that City that has not prevailed before. It is an introspective, hedonistic, get out of my way urban environment. It’s driven by oil, money and multinational interests. Most of these residents wouldn’t know the back end of a Case 500 tractor from the front end of an Angus Steer, and what’s more don’t want to know.
6. Traditional Sources of information no longer are as relevant as they once were.
Rick McIver the unsuccessful mayoralty candidate in Calgary can attest to this. He just got his clock cleaned by technology. Twitter and facebook did much to elect Calgary’s new mayor. We in Agriculture lean against the fence and bitch about how urbanites don’t understand us but do nothing about it. Let’s use some of the new tools available to be in touch with urbanites with good factual salient information.
7. There is a feeling of entitlement amongst Rural Agricultural People that we are owed something because we are involved in Agriculture.
We think that be have this inherent right to continue to be supported by this Province and this Country in our endeavors and this is not the case.
So, what’s different now?
The demographic hasn’t changed, but the makeup of the Legislature may change in the future. This is due to the advent of another political party in Alberta that has 29% of the popularity at this time. Take a page out of the Federal Book. It is a minority Government in Ottawa right now. The Federal Conservatives need the support of one or more parties to effect legislation and stay in power. What would happen if the seats in rural Alberta once more held the balance of power? A minority government or even fewer seats in the governing party in this Province with rural Alberta holding the balance of power just might be an opportunity to move to a position of relative strength in this Province once again. I’m not advocating that any political party be supported. I am suggesting that we may have political strength in the future but only if we are willing to speak with a unified voice.
How do we help ourselves?
Start by pulling the policy advisory plow in the same direction. If you put four farmers in a boat they would all row like crazy, one rowing east, one rowing west, one rowing north and one rowing south. In short everyone is working up a sweat rowing like crazy but the boat isn’t going anywhere. It’s stuck in the ocean of indecision and mixed messages. Those same four farmers couldn’t agree on the time of day let alone Agricultural Policy in this country. The one word response is compromise. Farmers are the Politician’ dream. Nobody agrees on anything and so nothing gets done. It’s like having too many Cock Pheasants in the spring. If there are too many male pheasants they would rather stake out their territory and protect their harems rather than mate resulting in a very unproductive breeding season. Self preservation dictates that there must be compromise and understanding, two very foreign concepts in Agriculture today. Let’s stop fighting and staking out our ideological territory and start looking proactively for good answers to pressing problems, far more enjoyable and productive.
Self Preservation demands it. Common Sense dictates it. If your industry leaders are incapable of compromise for the greater good, maybe there is a need for new leaders €“ those big picture guys like Peter Lougheed.