Sunday 25 September 2011

What to make of Alberta Party agriculture policy?

I would like to applaud the Alberta Party for being open and transparent by not only live broadcasting their AGM, but for leaving the videos available for all to see.

Unfortunately though, I do have to question the transparency of some of their policies. I don’t get me wrong, this is not a problem unique to them; all parties are subject to this. In many respects it boils down to human nature. We all have preconceived ideas on what certain words mean. When words are strung together as policy, we envision different outcomes from them based on what we personally believe the implications to be.

In my opinion policies should be as clear and concise as possible. Certainly, not everyone will agree the policies and that’s why the various parties (and supporters) debate the merits of particular policies. What really muddies these waters though is when a policy says one thing and the members of the party who approved the policy don’t even agree on what it really means.  This is in essence was came out of a debate on Twitter last night.

I was watching (and/or listening) to the video segment from the Alberta Party AGM on agriculture policy.  At the conclusion of passing the various AG policies, a question was asked about how urban candidates would discuss the agriculture policy at the doors. I was taken aback when I heard someone say “the consequence of what we have voted for … are policies that restrict urban sprawl by preventing the movement of farmland to be sold to developers.” This is paraphrased; you can hear the exact wording here at the 1:30:40 mark.

My immediate interpretation based on that statement was; Alberta Party would restrict farmers whose land borders on cities from selling their land to developers. But let’s be honest; that would be an absurd policy. 

I noted that Danielle Klooster was on Twitter. She is the Alberta Party candidate for Innisfail – Sylvan Lake, a predominantly rural constituency. She was also at the AGM and spoke to a number of the policies. Who better to ask for a clarification of what I had just heard. You can see the conversation string here

Basically she says “restrict” is not the right word. And goes onto say there needs to be a balance of what’s best and fair. Remember this is their policy that they hope to enact if elected. It would be the government deciding what is best and fair; thus interfering on who the private landowner could sell to.

Then Chris Labossiere, past-president of the Alberta Party, came into the conversation. Twitter stream.  He says regarding the policy it’s an “INCENTIVE to find a way for farmers to get the value of their land.”  By this time I’ve located their written policy proposals so I can read the exact policy in question. It reads as follows:
Be it resolved that the Alberta Party will work with the agricultural community to help develop initiatives that facilitate the continuing availability of farmland in Alberta through succession strategies, the promotion of initiatives to increase farm income, and to bring new farmers into the industry.

I point out to Chris that the policy has no mention of land value. Of course he asks “Then where did you get that idea from?” Well, let’s see, the initial comment I heard in the video, Danielle referred to it and so did Chris himself.   That’s about when Chris lost it and responded with this. You can click on image to enlarge.

Rereading the policy now it’s really not clear on the definition of farm income. Granted the first thing that pops to mind is revenue from the sale of product; but really it could be revenue from the sale of land as well.

I’ve gone back to the video to locate where the policy was discussed to get a clearer picture of the intent of what looks like to be a benign policy. Surprisingly there was no debate on it. Simply commentary from Michael Walters, Alberta Party candidate for Edmonton – Rutherford.  (Who the Liberal party recently tried to woo over) You can hear the policy read out at the 1:08:35 mark,  Michaels comments and then the quick successful vote passing it into their policy platform.

I’ve listened to it several times and I’m no closer to understanding what they really mean to accomplish with this policy.

Is anyone clear on it? I would love to hear what you think; especially Alberta Party members who will be conveying this to Albertans.


  1. Jane:

    Thanks you for your dogged pursuit of the truth in Alberta Party policy. I will clarify the tweet I made last night, which you seemed to have skipped over:

    That tweet:

    "The GOAL is to reduce urban sprawl. The TOOL is to find ways for farms to make more INCOME, so their less prone to SELL."

    You see, the Alberta Party policy was written to find ways for farmers to find more income for their farms.

    The reason the DISCUSSION in the room turned to urban farms on the edge of cities, is because these farms have a hard time justify continuing the family business when their lands are worth up to $40,000 an acre. The Alberta Party farms on the edges of cities, are a benefit to both the Urban and Rural life.

    So, the Party was discussing ways to help farmers make more money with their farms, especially the ones in these situations, so they can hand them down to their familes instead of having to sell them to free their nest-egg.

    And I didn't "lose it". I made a joke, because you seemed intent on creating the myth that we would be proposing limits on what Alberta Farmers could do with their land.

    So, using a technique I like to call "Trumping crazy with crazy", I proposed the Manning theme park.

    now just admit, you'd buy a seasons pass.

  2. Thanks for the comments Chris.

    I linked to the conversation. People are free to read the entire thing. I choose not to fill my blog with it.

    Can you give me a concrete example of how the Alberta Party would help farmers make more money with their farms?

    As for the Manning theme park, he was a touch too right for me. ;)

  3. I watched other parts of that video. They talk about 100 mile diets, being against GMOs and feeding the world. Talk about playing far left field. So much for being "centrist"

  4. Huh! I watched it too. A lifetime farmer, my kids are fifth generation on the family farm. They can no longer afford to farm. The party's position looks centrist to me. Individuals who talked were stating personal opinions. I don't like GMO's. I do like 100 mile diet idea. It's healthy, good for my business and shame on any who don't get that. Hurray for a serious intent to restore agriculture viability. Label it what you like. It's smart. Is being smart a leftist prerogative?

  5. If they can no longer afford to farm, they should sell the farm to someone who can make a profit.

    Creating policy to keep farmers in an industry they personally can't make a profit in doesn't make sense. Otherwise we should be subsidizing family VHS rental stores to keep those "family businesses" alive as well.

  6. The massive state intervention that would be required in your rose colored agricultural dreamworld would be leftist in the extreme actually Connie.

  7. Ex abparty memberSun Sept 25, 05:37:00 pm

    @ Chris and Connie,

    Weren't we told not to respond to her.


  8. Not a farmer, would be my guess. Maybe limited knowledge of ag programming and marketing? And definitely a narrow vision of how it can be helped without leftist subsidies. Nowhere do I read state intervention. That is not the plan at all. Please jump off your conclusions, reread, ask questions. And broaden your outlook to innovative solutions. You'll feel better.

  9. Connie,

    Let me ask you the same question I asked Chris (and Danielle Klooster on her blog)

    Give me a concrete example of how the Alberta Party would help farmers make more money with their farms? Enough money to equate to the value of their land.

  10. Oddly quiet around here now.... Ask a farmer if they would sell to get out of often overwhelming debt and see what they say about selling to accommodate urban sprawl... It's their land and trying to keep farms within an urban environment means you also have to change the farm commodity as very few want to live next to pig farms, chicken farms, feedlots and other common everyday farming enterprises that produce environmentally unfriendly gases as a natural by-product.. or create noise at all hours of the day.... try that close in next to Sherwood Park, Red Deer or anywhere else for that matter and see how it is received by the urbanites....

    Crop farming will never make the kind of money selling land for development does unless it is intensive greenhouse crop production to feed those same urbanites... period. If you actually want this province to grow and be economically competitive then you have to put up with urban growth - again, period. Or should we exclude folks from moving into cities next ?

    Mind you the towns and villages in the region would quickly become much larger metropolitan centres consuming surrounding farmland wouldn't they ?

  11. Reference: Sunrise Farm (near Killam) who have undertaken a new feeding and marketing system that could be viable for others. Assistance with marketing would make a difference. And this farm's methodology would not be offensive to neighbors. Not the factory model. Quite the opposite, in fact.

    Reference: Pigeon Lake Poultry. Trying to get set up. Raising organically fed chickens, and having a helluva time with government hoops and regs that weren't there when they started, but are suddenly appearing out of nowhere. They don't need handouts. They just don't need industry motivated snags.

    Reference. Betlamini Beef, who, in a determined effort to save a fourth generation family beef farm, established a very successful processing business on the farm. Again, after only five years, new industry inspired regs have made this operation unfeasible. Farm-raised, pasture fed beef, butchered and processed in a facility we could trust. Built completely to code, suddenly stopped. Best beef I ever bought.

    It isn't about farmers who want to sell. As Danielle Klooster has so eloquently pointed out, Alberta Party has a strategy for dealing with those issues. It about farmers who want to make a living in the industry.

    It is not farmers' faults that their farms don't pay. It comes from policy.

    That is all.

  12. RE ref #1. If they have a viable product, the marketing will more than pay for itself. Why should government pay for it? Perhaps they should try Dragons Den.

    Ref #2 I agree government regs are a pain. I believe the less the better. Having said that, when it comes to food that will be sold to the general public, I want it to be safe for consumption.

    Ref #3 Sounds like they came up with a way to make it work without a government body telling them how to do it. Great. Again though, I think the same comments from #2 apply to this situation.

    All products (food in particular) are subject to safety regulations. Why should organics be any different?

    I know your policy doesn't state it's about farmers who want to sell, but that's how it was explained not once, but twice at your AGM.

    Your last two examples don't correlate with your policy at all. They are about reducing red tape.

    The first one does and it sounds like you are looking for subsidies.

  13. Sickle and HammerSun Sept 25, 11:27:00 pm

    Quick, someone get the Kremlin on the line and ask them how well state run collective farms worked for them.

    The left must really be out of touch if central planning and egregious trampling of property rights is now considered centrist.

  14. I think I am understanding it now. The Alberta Party want's to prevent "sprawl" and wants to promote all organic type farming with nothing but family farms despite this being the new millenium. It is good to see the Alberta Party has recognized that this is a completely unviable approach fiscally to farming. They are not completely (just mostly) devoid of economic sense.

    Now having concluded that organic family farms will go broke in the real world, the party wants to subsidize this romantic notion of maintaining these little houses on the prairie. They will fund this through taxing the productive of course as as left-wing parties do.

    Realizing that simple subsidies may not keep people living on tiny farms farming organically, the Alberta Party wants to go a step further through zoning and regulations in order to completely devalue the land of the farmer. This will make it unrealistic for the dirt poor farmers to sell their land and they will learn to live ad-infinitum through government handouts while growing small organic crops.

    I had not realized that the Alberta Party had such foresight and depth. I do wonder though if they realize that this was attempted in Russia and the Ukraine in the last century. Millions starved.

  15. So, we have the interpretations of the Alberta Party's farmland policies...

    I've read over the information provided on the WRP website regarding agriculture policies, and it seems to me that this party is intent on a completely "laissez-faire" approach to agriculture. Jane, please clarify if this is incorrect.

    By letting the market dictate a price for everything, there can be NO long-term planning, and NO stability for farming families. As you have pointed out, Jane, the farm itself may be the product' that the farmer ends up selling - because someone values it more than the agricultural production it sustains. Is THIS WRP policy? To allow speculation and urban sprawl to run the family farm out of existence?

    Of course, you want small family-run farms to close up and be absorbed by huge multi-nationals... and for our food prices to rise to new heights as the food production is shipped out of country to others around the world. That IS the capitalist way, isn't it? This lets 'the market' determine the value of goods free of government 'interference'.

    And what would your agricultural support program be? From what I read, there would be supports for the industry farm, but not for the individual or family farm. These would be classed as 'uneconomic' and encouraged to flee to the cities or mass industry? You support outright elimination of group marketing efforts such as the CWB, and while you argue this gives 'choice' to the grower, it actually means less choice as this becomes a buyers' market.

    As in the meat processing industry, the top companies will quickly assert their market power to lock all production for themselves at the prices they set... and our continental transportation systems make it impossible for the grower to do other than accept this. "Short-term gain for long-term pain" is a much better way to describe it.