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Editorial: The kids are alright

As a slightly curmudgeonly older father, raised in the free-range parenting heyday of the 1970s, I will admit that it’s not uncommon to find myself rolling my eyes at kids today.

With their “everyone gets a medal” and “safe spaces,” I’ve found myself wondering just how prepared these kids will be for the real world.

It turns out the answer might be that they’ll fare pretty darned well, and even find some solutions to thorny problems that have eluded all us old fogeys for generations.

That’s because it appears there are some real benefits to be had from this way of educating and raising kids — their greater empathy for example, and the near-total disappearance of bullying in the schools.

Its been going on quite awhile and we now find ourselves in the position that some of these younger folks are not only in the workforce, but are just now taking on positions of power and influence.

I think they’ll have a positive impact on our future, and also that there is a case of this unfolding right before our very eyes in the agriculture sector.

One of the key differences they bring to their table is a bred-to-the-bone desire to find consensus. That might seem like a modern fairy tale at times, but one only needs to look at the recent announcement from the federal government about transportation legislation to see how it can play out positively in the real world.

It would seem a vast swath of agriculture’s wish list made it into the upcoming legislation promised for 2017, something I find unexpected, to say the least.

In the run-up to the announcement farm leaders were struggling to get a meeting with Transport Minister Marc Garneau. A cynical observer — myself for example — might look at that and accept it was going to, once again, be legislation that looked like it was written by the legal department of the country’s major railways.

Of course that was never the case, previous legislation was formed drip by drip by the tremendous lobbying power of the railways. They can and will expend an enormous amount of resources shaping their regulatory environment to their benefit. While we might not like it, it’s neither illegal or, if we’re honest, even unethical. They’re commercial companies and of course they have the right to advocate for their best interests.

On the other side of the grain transportation debate has always been a motley assortment of farm groups with little by way of central messaging. They might have had shared interests, but they did a terrible job of advocating them and were too often distracted by the industry’s own internal political debates. It was in many ways like watching American revolutionary Benjamin Franklin’s exhortation that “We must all hang together or, assuredly, we shall all hang separately” brought to life.

This round was different, right from the start, and in my opinion the key to that difference can be found in the policy departments of the farm groups and commodity associations. This is where a younger generation is well represented and their new ways can be seen.

This time, the effort from the agriculture sector began years in advance of the proposed legislation. It also drew together the farm and commodity groups and expanded the tent to include other industry associations like the Western Grain Elevator Association and Canadian Oilseed Processors Association, to name just two.

The shape of the effort was much different too. In the past there was never much of a concerted and co-ordinated effort. The message was dispersed and unfocused and therefore confusing and hard to follow. This time out, the young policy people were instrumental in boiling things down to a few key points that everyone could agree upon.

They wanted reciprocal penalties for shippers and railways, a better definition of what adequate and suitable rail service actually meant, and a greater and more proactive role for the Canadian Transport Agency to look into complaints. They also asked for extended interswitching, and its competitive effect on railways to continue, and a full costing review of the maximum revenue entitlement to ensure railways haven’t just been pocketing the efficiency gains of the last 15 years or so.

It was an easily digestible package of requests and the various parties spent years hammering it home.

It’s true there’s some distance to go between a political speech and implementation, but there’s little doubt this strategy had its desired effect. For the first time the message has reached the ears of policy-makers and there’s a fighting chance that some problems will be solved.

I think it’s time to embrace this approach, and stop silently wishing these darned kids would get off our lawns.

About the author

Editor

Gord Gilmour is Editor of the Manitoba Co-operator.

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