Some Policy Ideas for Rural Voters

Commentary, Agriculture, Robert Sopuck

One of the positive effects of elections is they force our leaders and politicians to concentrate on “we, the people” and our issues. Not that they don’t care the rest of the time, it’s just that elections focus the system’s attention.

If you care about rural issues, some specific questions should be asking of those who seek our votes.

First, they need to articulate a vision for rural Manitoba. A wise man once said, “If you don’t know where you are going, then any road will take you there.” How they will improve our economy, ensure a sound environment, and provide necessary social services? Note that these “goodies” do not have to be delivered by government or require the expenditure of huge amounts of money.

In some cases, this means that government should set the stage for economic growth and then just get out of the way. Two examples, oats and hogs, come to mind. In both cases, governments removed marketing impediments, and those actions resulted in the creation of improved opportunities for value-added agricultural processing. Investment and jobs followed.

Among the threats to rural communities, an increasing imbalance between urban and rural regions is the biggest. As rural areas decline in population, their political clout also declines. Rural industries become vulnerable to misinformation by misguided interests. Political parties have to resist urban meddling by understanding rural interests and pledging to defend them.

Politicians need to take bold positions on behalf of rural communities. Too often, special interest groups rule the day, often at the expense of rural interests and taxpayers at large. Why not advocate the abolition of school boards and fund education strictly through general revenues, not property taxes? Farmers would be major beneficiaries of such a policy move. Throw in parental choice, and we’d sharpen up the education system and prepare our children for the tough world ahead.

With the information highway moving along at light speed, it is important for governments to make sure that rural communities are well-placed to take advantage of it. The development of high-speed Internet services across Manitoba is as important today as rural electrification was a generation ago. Rural economic efficiency depends on it.

Continued support for the expansion of the livestock industry should be a priority for any government. This raises a thorny issue. Even though foreign policy is the purview of the federal government, Canada’s stand on Iraq will cost rural communities in the not-too-distant future. The next Manitoba government should be asked how it intends to mend fences with the United States, a market that is crucial to our economic well-being. If it doesn’t, cattle and hogs labelled Canadian may come up as “no sale.”

We should also ask political parties to re-visit the ethanol commitments have been made. Not only will government-subsidized ethanol hurt existing producers, it will make an already tight feed grain situation already worse.

Finally, we should ask them what they intend to do in the face of an increasingly meddlesome federal government. How will they get Ottawa to back off from some of its more egregious intrusions into provincial affairs?

Listen, watch, question, and learn. These are good rules to follow in the upcoming election chaos.