© Guardian photo by Brian McInnis
Green Party Leader Peter Bevan Baker. Guardian file photo.
Farmers receive vote of confidence from Liberal, Conservative hopefuls
Delegates attending the P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture annual meeting heard some welcome comments Friday, affirming the importance of farming and decrying the growing attacks against the sector in the press and social media.
The federation had invited candidates seeking the leadership of the Liberal and Progressive Conservative parties to address the meeting and all four were lavish in their praise — perhaps not necessarily seeking support for the upcoming conventions but certainly for the looming spring election campaign.
The three PC candidates were all critical of increasing regulations, barriers and red tape facing farmers and accused government of doing little to stop the growing divide and suspicions between rural and urban. Darlene Compton expressed concern about the growing influence of special interest groups who are quite happy to lay blame for any environmental issue at the doorstep of the agricultural community.
Rob Lantz singled out the Department of Environment for criticism but the candidate should tread carefully here. That department is expected to err on the side of protection for all Islanders and can’t be faulted for vigorous enforcement which will hopefully keep our air, water and soil as safe as possible for everyone.
Wade MacLauchlan said farmers are as concerned as anyone about the environment and pride themselves in being good stewards of the land.
It was interesting that there were few negative comments about the provincial Department of Agriculture. Minister George Webster, a potato farmer himself, is widely viewed as an effective minister who worked hard on behalf of the industry. Mr. Webster announced recently he wouldn’t be re-offering in the next election and the loss of the deputy premier will be a setback.
He was the target of a surprisingly bitter attack last week by Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker after Mr. Webster said things had improved for farmers under his watch.
Mr. Bevan-Baker had nothing good to say about the current state of agriculture or Mr. Webster. The facts are that beef prices for farmers have shot upward, pork prices have stabilized, potato prices are solid and total acres have increased to almost 90,000. Blueberry and soybean acreages are surging and the agricultural sector hasn’t been as healthy for some time.
Mr. Webster can’t take all the credit but he has been minister for eight years, the last three or four which have been reasonably good ones. Farm income has been a driving factor for the P.E.I. economy, a fact noted by Mr. MacLauchlan who couldn’t resist the good-natured jab that farmers are loathe to acknowledge when times are prosperous.
Mr. Bevan-Baker then expressed his displeasure at not being invited to speak at the federation meeting. A spokesman said only candidates were invited so delegates could gauge their support for agriculture. He then said the Green party had never approached the federation before formulating its farm policy. It all made for an interesting sideshow to the annual meeting.
Lest Mr. Bevan-Baker think he was singled out, NDP Leader Mike Redmond also wasn’t invited to address delegates. Mr. Redmond, a strident critic of recent fish kills, is himself now dabbling with farming in Valleyfield.
It should be noted the only fish kill reported in 2014 apparently happened when a concerned farmer tried to plant grass to enhance a buffer zone.
For Islanders with lingering concerns over wells, underground water issues or aquifers, the moratorium on deep-water wells is now in its 12th year.
The only example where deep-water wells have caused a problem has been in the Winter River area when the insatiable thirst of the City of Charlottetown has resulted in the watershed being sucked dry during recent summers.
Government also took the opportunity Friday to unveil a Farmland Financing Program, aimed to provide financing to new and expanding Island farmers. It was developed based on industry advice and could be a fitting legacy for Mr. Webster.