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Moving Beyond Invisible

Some are saying it s been a ho-hum campaign so far as Manitoba politicians head into the final stretch of their race to the polls Oct. 4.

But from this desk, one of the outstanding features of the 2011 election has been the farm and rural communities collective efforts to move beyond invisible.

For far too long, politicians have paid lip service to agriculture, paid no attention to food issues whatsoever, and virtually ignored the pressing infrastructure needs faced by communities outside major urban areas.

Not this time.

The Association of Manitoba Municipalities came out with its Putting Communities First campaign, highlighting what towns, villages and rural municipalities need by way of infrastructure spending to keep the rural economy from crumbling.

Keystone Agricultural Producers was a vocal member of the Manitoba Education Financing Coalition (MEFC), a group of cottage owners, realtors and the Manitoba and Winnipeg branches of the Chamber of Commerce seeking the removal of education taxes from property.

Food Matters Manitoba co-ordinated the first-ever debate on food issues in a provincial election, prompting participating candidates to see food as part of an integrated health and wellness policy for the province.

A coalition of livestock organizations rallied behind the Manitoba Pork Council s bid to end the province s moratorium on hog barn expansions and the Manitoba Beef Producers issued its own election wish list calling for the implementation of an ecological goods and services program and an end to the Manitoba Cattle Enhancement Council.

And in the middle of all this was Open Farm Day, an opportunity for non-farming folk to get out and see for themselves the diversity, both in type and scale, of agriculture and food production in this province. It s unfortunate however, that the list of participating farms didn t include more grain farmers.

Events like these don t change anyone s mind or open new markets, but they help make farming tangible. They put agriculture, and its importance, on the public radar.

To be sure, this election campaign has been long on instantly gratifying vote-buying announcements such as a new MRI here, a new community centre there, more rental properties, or more police officers. Both the governing NDP and the opposition Progressive Conservatives have bought into the Save Lake Winnipeg rhetoric.

The whole campaign has been woefully short of strategic initiatives, the kind of visionary and politically risky proposals that will be needed to carry this province forward.

And these sorts of announcements tend to be aimed at large population centres or major special-interest groups, because that s where the critical votes lie. That s not a good thing for those of us living and working in the rest of the province.

In order to be heard, we have to do a better job of spelling out why what we want is good for everyone else in the province too.

Manitoba s farm and rural leaders have done a stellar job of raising their issues profile during this campaign. The campaign isn t over Oct. 4.

The effects of these efforts are incremental. They can t be measured by what the politicians say and do today, but rather how receptive they are to these ideas post-election.

Between A Rock And A Hard Place

The board of directors for the Canadian Wheat Board is legally and morally responsible for acting in the best interests of the corporation.

That goes for the ones who were elected, regardless of which side of the single-desk debate they represent, as well as those appointed by the federal government.

Elected directors have an extra duty to represent the wishes of their farmer constituents. But ultimately, their first obligation is to the institution s financial integrity.

Directors for any corporation who fail to abide by that duty could be held to account legally. Presumably, that includes defending it from political interference that jeopardizes its ability to continue even if it puts them in the path of a federal minister s wrath.

No one should be surprised or angry that CWB directors are balking at the federal government s plans to eliminate the single desk, which is the supporting beam for the entire structure.

Yet these individuals have been labelled backward, unco-operative, and recalcitrant. They are accused of acting like spoiled little children and worse for their failure to prepare a plan for the board s continuation in an open market.

Oddly, it is those pushing the open-market agenda the hardest who seem the most frantic about perpetuating the myth that the CWB can and will survive. The business case for such a proposition is weak, a reality underscored by the fact that some of these same groups are calling for taxpayer subsidies to support its transition.

The federal government will do what it will do, but don t vilify the wheat board directors for doing their job. [email protected]

About the author

Vice-President of Content

Laura Rance

Laura Rance is vice-president of content for Glacier FarmMedia. She can be reached at [email protected]

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