Sometime before October 24th , Manitobans will go to the polls to elect the next provincial government. While we don’t know the election date, the campaign has already begun, or at least, it should have begun for farmers if we want to see agriculture’s needs reflected in the parties’ policies.
The political parties are all getting prepared for the campaign to come. All are drafting their election platforms. All are setting up candidate briefings on key election issues. Will the aspirations and concerns of the province’s farmers matter to the drafters of the party platforms? Will agriculture policies be based on the science that supports modern agriculture or be influenced by some of the misinformation floating about on social media? The answers to these questions largely depend on farmers and farm organizations.
Manitoba’s agriculture community needs to engage with political parties now, to ensure we see our needs reflected in every election platform. We need to provide our input while policies are being drafted, because reacting after the election is called or after the policy platforms are published is too late.
What is on the policy wish list for Manitoba’s hog farmers? Right at the top is the need for recognition of the role that the pork sector plays in driving the provincial economy and developing communities in every part of Manitoba. Rural communities like Neepawa, Roblin, Killarney, Steinbach, and Notre Dame de Lourdes, are socially thriving, and becoming more diverse, directly because of investments in hog farming and pork processing. Our large urban centers like Brandon and Winnipeg are adding jobs and seeing economic growth because of the pork sector. 14,000 Manitobans from across the province depend on the hog sector for a well-paying, high-quality job. We want to see the party platforms take pride in these developments and commit to policies that will support this ongoing growth and development.
Economically and environmentally sustainable agriculture growth depends upon science-based policies and regulations. This sounds straightforward and uncomplicated, but often political discourse can be influenced by misinformation on modern agriculture that is spread through social media and even picked up by mainstream broadcasting and print publications. How do we prevent misinformation from becoming a party’s policy and eventually legislation and regulation? The most important way is to have every party commit to effective and meaningful consultations with farmers and their associations before implementing a change in policy direction. Commitment to science-based policies and promises of effective consultation are key elements we all need to see in election platforms.
Every party will have policies related to greenhouse gas reductions and sustainability. Most Manitobans expect this, and candidates will need to address these issues if they expect to be elected. Like all of Manitoba’s agricultural producers, hog farmers need to see environmental and animal care policies which acknowledge the fact that modern agriculture provides the roadmap for achieving society’s sustainability objectives. Reverting back to the farm practices of Ol’ McDonald is not an ecological solution, but an unsustainable path that will lead to reduced efficiency, increasing environmental footprint, and the rural poverty of days gone by. Building upon the research and technological advances of modern agriculture will ensure the sector is economically and environmentally sustainable for generations to come.
What can individual farmers do to advance these policy objectives? The answer is simple, but requires a time commitment to carry out. We need farmer engagement if we are going to see political platforms that reflect the needs of our sector. Most candidates for the upcoming election have been nominated. The agriculture community needs to get out and meet with them. I would like to see every pork producer adopt two candidates, one in rural Manitoba and one in a major urban center. Ask to sit down and meet with candidates that share a differing political perspective (you don’t need to convince someone who agrees with you). Discuss with them the key request from the sector and do this before they are committed to a particular policy platform.
We also need to listen to candidates. Listening is just as important as delivering a set of requests. Listen to any concerns they may have about agriculture and commit to getting responses back to them. Provide this feedback to your farm organizations like Manitoba Pork and Keystone Agricultural Producers. Getting responses back to candidates is one way in which farm organizations like Manitoba Pork will help deliver common messages to all parties and candidates.
Political activists often say that “public policy is set by those who show up.” What does this mean? It means that if we don’t engage politicians our voice will not be heard, and our needs will not be reflected in party platforms. Now is the best time for individual producers to influence policy. Now is the time for farmers to actively participate in the political process.