It’s become a repetitive, ongoing theme here in Alberta – government consultation (or should I say the pretence thereof), after-the-fact.
My first truly in-your-face involvement with the concept came during the EUB’s Review and Variance hearing for the north-south 500 Kv power line in the summer of 2006, where a backroom decision cooked up by government and industry in 2004 finally came to the attention of the affected public more than two years later, after the project had been approved and was quietly well on its way to being built.
Most Albertans now know that the landowner-forced R&V and subsequent hearings were riddled with contentious antics by the Board and industry that led to the EUB being caught using cookie-munching private investigators to spy on Alberta farmers and landowners, further leading to the quashing of the hearings and to the EUB, AESO and AltaLink being defeated in the Alberta Court of Appeal.
Last night (Wednesday), I attended a meeting of approximately 250 concerned cattlemen in the small community of Newbrook, some 60-odd miles north of Edmonton, on the infamous “Hell’s Highway” #63 to Ft. McMurray. The purpose of the meeting was for members of the Woodlands Ranchers’ Association and other beef producers to “consult” (no ‘derogatory comments’ were permitted) with Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, John Knapp, and other Alberta government bureaucrats concerning the new Alberta Livestock and Meat Strategy.
The new strategy will impose even more costly and time-consuming administrative restrictions on the province’s already over-burdened cattlemen and meat producers, with no apparent economic gains or potential for much-needed competitive market advantage. In a time of rapidly increasing production costs and corporate control of the industry, the province’s beef and meat producers are, once again, being called upon to dig into their rapidly diminishing bottom line. Although attendees were told that “some of these things are just thoughts on paper” and “some of these ideas are still not set in stone”, we learned that four of seven directors for the new agency (none of whom are actual producers) have already been appointed and will “be paid on a higher scale”. We also learned that the deadline for “buy-in” to the new program is December 31 of this year. In fact, according to Agriculture and Rural Development Minister, George Groeneveld in his June 5 press release, “producers who are unable or unwilling to transform their business by meeting these new verification and identification conditions may need to consider ways to exit the industry”.
In the typical elusive style which has become a trademark of this government, a number of queries were tactfully side-stepped, such as one which questioned the use of 2006 figures in arriving at producer payments, especially in view of the fact that feedlot numbers have declined significantly over the past two years since the figures were compiled. Another rancher challenged the exemption of the first 400 pounds of calf weight, and the consequent increased benefit to the feedlot and packing sectors. Producers received approximately 25 percent of a June, 2008 relief payment of $150 million – the remaining 75 percent went to the feedlot and packing sectors. That share will no doubt come in handy in XL Foods’ recent $107 million offer to buy Tyson Foods’ Lakeside Packers in Brooks (those Nilsson boys are obviously pretty smart cookies, as they will now control approximately 50 percent of the province’s meat-packing industry, with feedlot operations capable of finishing well over 250,000 animals per year and slaughter and packing facilities for 8,000 animals per day). A further $150 million payment at the end of this year, presumably similarly shared, will be the final “carrot”, but producers will be required to “buy in” to the new program before qualifying for additional funding.
Part way through the meeting, I was suddenly struck by a dark flashback from the past as I spotted a pair of shady-looking individuals skulking around near the doughnut trays. From experience, I know full well how government spies prefer to hang out around cookie jars and muffin trays. It became immediately obvious to me that, if these ranchers insist on continuing to learn the real truth behind their plight as food producers and about the real motives behind secretive programs like the new meat strategy, yet another group of Alberta landowners will soon find it necessary to don their aprons and start baking, in order to satisfy the palates of the next contingent from this government’s spy brigade.
Buck Lake, Alta.