Editor’s Take: Governments need to provide clarity — quickly

The past year has proven — on many fronts — that the actions, inactions and inattentiveness of government can have an outsized impact on farms.

As our reporter Geralyn Wichers writes in the March 25 issue of the Co-operator, the federal government has finally clarified the rules around farmers bringing temporary foreign workers into the country this spring.

Not a moment too soon either, as those farmers are anticipating the arrival of their first workers in just a few short weeks.

It’s a bit perplexing as to why it’s taken so long. A similar challenge arose last winter, as borders clanged shut and air travel options disappeared. It led to some farmers being unable to access much-needed workers, and some farming operations being forgone entirely.

Surely even the most urbanized Ottawa bureaucrat must be able to realize that every 12 months or so, spring comes and crops are planted.

Another expression of this lack of urgency can be seen, again at the federal level. Here Ottawa correspondent D.C. Fraser reports on the tortuous path of a private member’s bill, being supported by a united opposition, to offer farmers relief for the carbon tax on grain drying.

In it he chronicles a year of inaction, dithering and calls for more information and study until — suddenly, but only after a private member’s bill on the topic gains traction — the government of the day is prodded into action.

This isn’t just a problem for the federal Liberals though. It’s a multi-party, intergovernmental shuffle.

Here in Manitoba we’ve seen a similar record unfold at the provincial level with the Progressive Conservative government.

The province has hemmed and hawed and glanced around nervously while kicking the ground at the spectre of having to fund an enhanced AgriStability program, as proposed by the federal government.

It’s hardly alone in this, all three Prairie provinces are crying poverty and are very reluctant to fund the cost-shared program to the tune of their 40 per cent of a larger bill.

It’s also been extremely resistant to the idea of revisiting its flawed Crown land modernization program.

Let’s be clear. This isn’t about unpopular decisions. It’s the business of government to do so.

The problem is that it’s done a terrible job of communicating its intentions, it has repeatedly flip-flopped on important issues, and has issued conflicting statements at public meetings at both the ministerial and departmental level.

That’s led ranchers here in the province to make business decisions based on the best information available to them at the time, only to find the fiscal rug pulled out from under them after they’ve signed on the dotted line.

If anything, the track record is more troubling because the PC government is supposed to understand rural Manitobans better than the other parties. At least that’s certainly how it would have rural voters see it.

But it has repeatedly acted in a vacuum, ignored the needs of its rural base and failed to adequately consult with, or communicate to the farm community.

There is, perhaps, the hard political reality of being a bit too reliable at the ballot box at play. If one’s vote can always, in every election, be counted on, one is no longer truly part of the political calculus of decision-making.

All citizens deserve a responsive government that can provide clear-cut decisions, clearly explained. When we get less than that we, as a society, end up with a lot of unintended consequences and expenses.

Our political leaders, and the civil service, are ultimately responsible for providing just that. And in the very end, as U.S. President Harry Truman famously observed, the buck stops with the elected leaders.

The pandemic has, no doubt, been a difficult time to govern. But with over a year of experience, one would think that some of the more predictable issues — like bringing in much-needed workers — might be addressed proactively, rather than in a last-minute rush.

And as for longer-term issues such as Crown lands and carbon taxes, at a minimum, citizens should be able to expect clarity, rather than a constant change and poor communication.

Our provincial government has taken on an ambitious agenda. In November, at the start of this legislative session, it faced questions about why it was tabling so many complex bills while hospitalizations and deaths soared.

Premier Brian Pallister rather glibly responded during one press conference that his government could walk and chew gum at the same time.

Perhaps it’s time that we as voters — and citizens — began to insist on exactly that from our elected leaders, no matter the level of government or party affiliation.

About the author

Editor

Gord Gilmour

Gord Gilmour is Editor of the Manitoba Co-operator.

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