June 14th, 2024

Senator Black visit focuses on needs of local agriculture

By Tim Kalinowski on August 14, 2021.

Senator Doug Black speaks with a Herald reporter during an interview. Herald photo by Trevor Busch

LETHBRIDGE HERALDtkalinowski@lethbridgeherald.com

Senator Doug Black made his 10th official visit to Lethbridge this week, and the first since before the COVID-19 pandemic began. Black’s focus on this trip was assessing the needs of the local agriculture industry, particularly since this year’s devastating drought has wreaked such havoc upon it.
Black said, in his view, the current federal government doesn’t get it. They don’t seem to have a strong understanding of the vital importance of Alberta’s agriculture industry, or agriculture in general, and are perpetually slow to respond to farmers’ and producers’ needs.
“Of course they can do more,” stated Black, when asked about the federal drought response to date. “Folks were here saying yesterday this is the worst drought in 100 years, and this goes directly to the economic performance of not only Alberta, but Canada. Because agriculture is a huge export industry. The business reality is if there is a part of your business that is having trouble, you put attention to it to get it through the trouble. And you put the attention to it that it requires to get it through the trouble.”
Black said outside of the immediate and urgent relief needed at the moment, the federal government also has to think more about the systemic issues slowing growth of the industry going forward. In this respect, he points to issues such as rural broadband as an ongoing Achilles heel, particularly in deep rural areas, the necessity to support the expansion of irrigation, the need to help come up with programs to address critical labour shortages in the industry, and the necessity of expanding intermodal rail access and other transport infrastructure to help farmers and food producers get their products more easily to market.
“We have seen the feds recently be very supportive of the irrigation initiative,” he acknowledged. “That’s very important. The feds are all about policy and money. So the feds can be supportive of all of the above, transport, Internet, irrigation projects– and I think in fairness they likely are; especially on the irrigation. They have certainly figured out the importance of that in Canada. But we have to keep the heat on, because Alberta is a long way from Ottawa, and this corner of Alberta is a long way from Ottawa. So unless you are basically a squeaky wheel– you don’t get heard.”
Black said other policies highly negative toward agriculture brought in under the Trudeau Liberal government, particularly Bill C-69, aren’t so much matters of benign neglect, but a direct bludgeon to the competitiveness of the Canadian agriculture industry as a whole.
“A lot of the policies pursued by this federal government are not conducive to investment,” he stated bluntly. “A lot of the policies are fairly rigorous in terms of approval processes with an emphasis on social factors, and really not much attention being paid to economic values. So if I am Cavendish, and I want to expand my facility in this part of Alberta, I want to make sure I can do this for a sustained period of time. That I have a sense of what the regulatory regime is going to be like, taxation regime, my ability to expand my facility as I want.
“And because of, principally, Bill C-69, which restricts development in Canada and puts everything through an environmental and social lens, it becomes very difficult to attract investment. And indeed, what we have seen in Canada and Alberta is incoming investment has basically for the last year stopped. And outgoing investment has accelerated– because people have voted with their wallets. This is, at this moment in time, not a strong place to do business as it historically has been. That’s a problem.
“We have to create a responsible environment that allows businesses to prosper,” he concluded.
Black said outside of agriculture one issue which has concerned him lately is the appointment of Senator Karen Sorenson by Prime Minister Trudeau over and above the elected choice of Albertans. Black, who is an elected senator himself confirmed to the Senate by then Prime Minister Stephen Harper, said the optics of such a move are a bit of a “slap in the face” to Albertans.
“Albertans stood up and said, ‘I want these folks representing us’– just to have that ignored.”
Black said he has nothing personal against Sorenson, who he considers a friend and believes will make an excellent senator for Alberta, but feels the Prime Minister should have respected the wishes of Albertans in this case.
“She is a wonderful woman, and she is going to be a very strong senator,” he stated. “But, the process I don’t approve of at all.”

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