Comment: Is it worth voting Conservative again?

ELECTION | There are perils in being seen as a too-reliable voting bloc

Producers on the Prairies are expected to once again support the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC).

Polling suggests the CPC vote share could be on the rise, and there is a chance the party sweeps all the seats in Saskatchewan again – this time with a higher share of the vote than in 2019.

We’ve seen how this plays out in an election before.

Farmers won’t be seen as a valuable voting bloc.

Outside of a few local ridings, don’t expect parties to put in any particular effort to win over that vote.

Political organizers in opposition parties know the 14 Conservative-held seats in Saskatchewan, for example, are likely to stay that way.

Most of those seats aren’t considered “winnable” and party resources will instead be diverted to ridings that are.

(I expect the Liberals will put in at least a half-hearted effort for the Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River seat, where the left-leaning vote often splits with the NDP to deliver a CPC MP.)

Having had a Liberal government since 2015, we have a pretty good sense in the value of having CPC members represent Prairie farmers.

Farmers, what has the CPC done for you lately?

It is tough to deliver results from the opposition benches, and the CPC hasn’t been in power since 2015.

At least of this writing, the Erin O’Toole-led CPC seems destined to stay in opposition (my way-too-early bold guess: the CPC has another leadership race in its near future).

In the absence of being able to govern, CPC members were looked to be a viable opposition to the Liberals and the policies they brought in.

Advocate on behalf of constituents, rail against bad government policy. Be the opposition.

Here, too, the CPC has largely failed in recent years – particularly when it counted most.

Producers strongly opposed carbon pricing, for example, but the CPC was unable to do anything to stop that policy from impacting farmers.

Conservative provincial governments on the Prairies couldn’t stop it, either.

Any tweaks to carbon pricing (like offering further exemptions on certain fuels) that were eventually ushered in came more at the behest of the countless ag-related lobby groups operating in Ottawa than the CPC.

Once seen by some as an existential threat to modern agriculture, carbon pricing has now been in place since 2019 across the country and is poised to stay here.

The CPC now supports the policy, and any continued farmer opposition will fall on sympathetic, but mostly deaf, ears. The ship has sailed.

Farmers, compared to other industries, don’t need to rely on opposition members to represent their interests.

Producers support, and pay out of pocket, for a litany of organizations to represent their interests in Ottawa – perhaps more than any other industry in Canada.

Canada’s minister of agriculture regularly ranks among the most lobbied of politicians, and there seems to be a lobby or advocacy group in agriculture related to everything.

(For what it’s worth, none of those efforts were able to stop carbon pricing, either.)

It is also difficult for the CPC to now oppose the Liberals – on ag policy and other issues – because since the 2019 election, Liberals have regularly been supported by the CPC.

CPC members helped usher in Liberal policies during this minority government.

Sure there have been a handful of Conservative private member’s bills that passed in the most recent minority government, like one offering more punishment for animal activists who trespass onto a farm.

These will be welcomed by farmers, but in terms of substantive issues, don’t rank in the same stratosphere as issues like carbon pricing.

For farmers, the CPC has failed as an opposition, but it continues to be seen as the party with a better understanding of agriculture.

Conservative leadership knows this – but it is all kind of irrelevant, because no matter what, most farmers will still vote for it.

This is likely why there isn’t anything related to agriculture in the Conservative Party of Canada platform to get excited about.

Line by line, the party’s ag proposals are almost identical to what the Liberals are currently doing.

And that makes sense, because despite some challenging times, under a Liberal government, agriculture has continued to be a stable and growing industry.

Producers will once again support the Conservatives in the 2020 election.

Before doing so, they should ask themselves why.

About the author

Reporter

D.C. Fraser

D.C. Fraser is Glacier FarmMedia’s Ottawa-based reporter. Growing up mostly in Alberta, Fraser also lived in Saskatchewan for ten years where he covered politics, including a stint teaching at the University of Regina’s School of Journalism. He is an avid fan of the outdoors and a pretty good beer league hockey player. His passion for agriculture and agri-food policy comes naturally: Six consecutive generations of his family have worked in the industry.

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