Agricultural producers in the region will have the chance to have their voices heard on the issues facing the industry at a Wildrose Alliance sponsored meeting March 1 in Westlock.
Members of the party will be at Memorial Hall, including leader Danielle Smith, MLA Paul Hinman and Link Byfield, the candidate for Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. and is open to everyone.
“We’re hoping producers come out with a good, constructive view as to where they want to see their industry go in the future,” Byfield said.
Meetings have been set up in “every region of the province,” he added, and have been organized by Danny Hozack, a farmer and member of the party’s agricultural task force, which Smith set up after being elected leader.
“She has made a commitment to having an intelligent discussion about the problems facing our province,” he said.
As far as agriculture goes, Hozack said the biggest problem facing Alberta is a threat to property rights from Conservative legislation.
“One of the major problems we’re dealing with, is (Bills) 19, 36 and 50 seem to be an absolutely unprecedented attack on property rights,” he said.
Critics, including the Wildrose Alliance, have suggested the bills would essentially allow the government to steal private land.
“There’s three problematic bills, especially the Land Stewardship Act,” Byfield said. “It basically says the government will take your land for environmental purposes and not pay you for it if they want to.”
Another big burden on the province’s farmers is regulatory burdens — essentially, Hozack said it costs too much for farmers to produce and they aren’t always able to prosper.
“Get out of the way and let us do our thing,” Hozack said.
A third major issue is the disparity between production capacity and available markets for Alberta’s agricultural products.
“We have unbelievable productive capacity and not enough domestic population to consume it,” Hozack said. “To achieve our potential, we have to access foreign markets.”
Ultimately, the purpose of the series of meetings is to consult with the province’s farmers about exactly what direction they want to see agricultural policy go and how best to implement the party’s policy goals, which Hozack described as having “a market-oriented internationally competitive industry.”
Byfield conceded he is by no means an agricultural expert, but said in his time talking to constituents he has heard some common concerns and feels the party should focus on market developments, income stabilization, land-use planning and property rights.
“These are all things which have a huge effect on farm producers and we’ve noticed, in some areas, some severe problems,” he said.
In total, the party plans to have six to eight meetings like this across the province, and have had quite a few already.
Attendance has typically been between 50 and 150, and producers seem happy to voice their opinions.
“We’ve had a pretty good response. I think we’ve got a pretty good idea of what our producers want,” Hozack said.
Smith and Hinman have not attended all the meetings, but will be able to attend the one in Westlock because of its proximity to Edmonton while the Legislature is sitting.
Both Hozack and Byfield said they believe people will be motivated to come out because of the current leadership race within the governing Progressive Conservative party.