MLA, Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre
Recently, the world price of oil reached a 12-year low, reaching below $30 per barrel. At the same time the Canadian dollar dipped below 70 cents U.S. As the economy continues to deteriorate and job losses mount, people across our province and country are just now beginning to come to grips with the severity of the situation.
In 2016 the upstream oil and gas sector is expected to continue shedding jobs, yet another significant body blow for rural regions like ours. However, this is no time to question or dismiss rural Alberta’s role at the heart of our economy.
We are home to one of the world’s most productive agricultural economies, with a total farm area of 50.5 million acres. In 2014, our farm cash receipts totalled $12.9 billion, representing 22.4 per cent of Canada’s production, including the highest cattle receipts. At the same time, our processed food and beverage industries reached $13.7 billion. Meanwhile, our forestry industry shipped $5.4 billion in products, with exports of $2.7 billion. More than half of Alberta’s land base is forested, and about 60 per cent of it is considered suitable for harvest.
Of course, our greatest resource isn’t oil or gas, wheat or beef, lumber or pulp. Our true strength has always been Albertans.
I have always felt that our commitment to cultivating the leaders of tomorrow is best represented by the hundreds of 4-H clubs operating across Alberta’s vast rural regions.
2016 marks the 99th year of 4-H in Alberta. As I’m sure many of you can attest, the program is about so much more than cleaning ditches, raising steers, and public speaking. Rather, it’s about teaching the values of community service, and helping youth realize their potential as self-reliant, contributing members of society.
Never have the contributions of 4-H been more readily apparent to me than during the debate of the provincial government’s controversial Bill 6.
As originally written, this legislation left the door open to disastrous consequences for farm families and rural communities.
As the protests against this approach grew, current and former 4-H members from across Alberta, including Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre, took centre stage. Their voice proved instrumental in prompting the government to put forward vital amendments designed to protect the family farm.
I should note that the threat posed by Bill 6 has yet to be fully addressed as many of the regulations it requires have yet to be written. The NDP government has promised further consultations over the next 18 months. Because of their leadership and dedication to this point, I know I can count on Alberta’s 4-H community to continue standing up for farm families.
So, what is Alberta’s most valuable resource? I rest easier in the knowledge that our future belongs with those who pledge their head, their heart, their hands, and their health to their club, their community, and their country.
They speak to the best of who we are.