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Oct 21

How to solve the political puzzle

Posted on Oct 21 By: Patrick Whynot

Representatives from Alberta Barley, the Alberta Canola Producers Commission, the Alberta Pulse Growers and the Alberta Wheat Commission came together as “Team Alberta” to bring Alberta’s agriculture message to Parliament Hill.

The nature of politics is much like the seasons—always changing.

However, Alberta Barley’s approach to policy and government relations always stays true. Through every election cycle, the number-one priority remains proactively engaging with provincial and federal parties to advocate for the interests of Alberta’s barley farmers.

“Regardless of who is in power, we are always going to do what is best for our membership,” said Alberta Barley vice-chair Jason Lenz.

Here in Alberta, the recent provincial election marked a historic shift from a traditional power. But thanks to an inclusive and proactive strategy, Alberta Barley was ready and willing to present a strong agricultural voice to our new government.

“It is important for each commission to make sure the government and all industry players are aware of crops and our profile. We embrace those discussions with open arms,” remarked Lenz.

To put it simply, in order to manage the unpredictability factor of politics, Alberta Barley’s approach has always been proactive and collaborative.

Putting the pieces in place
In order to stay ahead of the curve, ongoing policy research is crucial to anticipating outcomes. The first step, Lenz indicated, is ensuring Alberta Barley’s members have the most up-to-date information to make informed decisions.

“A lot of policy is forward-looking—how it will affect the industry and how that translates to farm level,” Lenz explained. “Being involved and educated on the issues allows farmers to prepare on the farm while also having a voice in guiding the industry as a whole.”

This broader viewpoint is an example of why it is so important to consider the perspective of each member of the value chain. If policy were only approached from one perspective, it would be like trying to solve a puzzle without all the pieces.

Alberta Barley’s West Coast port tour last August was a great example of this approach. With rail transportation issues top of mind, Alberta Barley led four crop commissions on a tour of North America’s major West Coast ports, from Portland, Oregon, to Prince Rupert, BC. The purpose of this tour was to observe the current process and identify potential operational gaps and their impact on the movement of grain.

In the end, this port tour helped the Commission solidify its stance on the rail transportation operations and form an opinion on Bill C-30, the Fair Rail for Grain Farmers Act, which was later presented to the standing ag committee in the House of Commons.

Team Alberta
For Alberta Barley, policy is a collaborative endeavour. By working together, crop commissions are able to present a stronger, unified voice for agriculture.

“There are many common interests between commodity groups. Though there are a lot of crops, there is still just one farmer,” noted Jeff Nielsen, Alberta Barley’s director for Region Two.

Throughout Alberta and across Canada, many agriculture organizations have common interests. This has not gone unnoticed by Alberta Barley, and it often dictates the approach taken when interacting with government. The reason for this is simple, according to Nielsen.

“By openly communicating and working as a team with other, similarly focused commissions, we promote diversity but also ensure, on a broad scale, that we support the agriculture industry by bringing a strong and aligned voice to Ottawa,” he said.

These values were exemplified this past March when, in preparation for the upcoming federal election, “Team Alberta” was born. Thanks to the partnership between Alberta Barley, the Alberta Wheat Commission, the Alberta Canola Producers Commission and the Alberta Pulse Growers, a joint voice was heard on Parliament Hill.

Over the course of two days, representatives from Alberta’s four crop commissions held fact-finding meetings with the federal government and key members of Parliament.

“It was very interesting, mainly due to the fact we met with all major parties,” explained Nielsen. “We gained great insight on each party’s stance and where gaps may be found.”

From these valuable meetings with the Conservative, Liberal and New Democratic parties, ideas emerged on how each party’s stance aligns with Alberta Barley’s mandate. This knowledge aids Alberta Barley in anticipating upcoming issues or opportunities that could arise due to a shift in political power.

Though many things may change, one thing is certain—Alberta Barley will always keep an open dialogue with all parties and present a unified voice based on the interests of the province’s barley farmers.

In the end, Lenz summed it up best: “With change comes opportunity. We must continue to work based on our values and make sure the government is aware of who we are, what our priorities are and our willingness to work together.”

This article was originally published in GrainsWest magazine, the fall 2015 issue.

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