Saturday, at the Alberta Party AGM and Policy Convention, four excellent policies were adopted. I’m so proud of our policy volunteers who take on the important task of gathering all the input given at Big Listens and turning it into sound, practical, achievable policy positions.

One of the policies we adopted yesterday was our Agriculture Policy. Being in a constituency that is a strong mix of rurban and rural, I am keenly aware of the need to get this one right. I was pleased to see these pillars in the policy:

–  assist farmers in implementing sustainable farm managements techniques

– help farmers earn income from conservation practices

– work to develop leading edge agri-tech capacities to establish Alberta as a global agricultural leader

– grow the local food and niche agri-food market share

– collaborate with key stakeholders to balance ag production growth while preserving Alberta’s water, air and land resources

– collaborate with farmers, developers, and municipalities to balance land owner’s rights, development and the need to preserve prime agricultural land

It’s pretty clear, just in this policy alone,  that two core Alberta Party values are public engagement and fairness. You’ll find that language and perspective peppered throughout all of our policies.

So let’s talk about one aspect of the agricultural policy in light of those two core values: preservation of prime agricultural lands and land owner rights.

Prime agricultural land is a finite resource: once we lose prime agricultural land, we can’t get it back. In Alberta, much of the prime agricultural land exists in the “QEII corridor” – the region between Edmonton and Calgary. Problem is, this is also prime urban growth and development territory. Add to that the reality that many small family farms do not have an interested or available “next generation” for the continuance of their farming operation. That land is their nest egg, and selling it to developers can become an important part of their financial well-being and their children’s inheritance. They’ve worked that land, it’s their land, and they expect to have the right to sell it when they want for the best possible price. Completely reasonable.

If we’re going to grow our agricultural industry globally and, at the same time, grow our local food markets, we’ll need to ensure we have good land available long-term.  It only makes sense that we can’t achieve those objectives without some type of land preservation strategy. But what should that strategy look like? And how to we protect land owner’s rights in the process?

If there were restrictions placed on the sale of prime agricultural lands for development, we could really step in it (pardon the agricultural pun). Aside from the issue of potentially devaluing land, the danger of ending up with a “Green Belt”, in which developers simply hop over land they can’t have and carry on developing further out. The farmer ends up hemmed in on devalued land. Not good.

So! What are we to do with this conundrum? The point made in the agriculture policy is exactly the same as the point made in our energy and environment policy: when competing interests collide and the decisions involve tough compromise, bring all affected parties into the same conversation and have the Albertans – the stakeholders – work with decision-makers – the government – to find equitable solutions. 

Other political schools of thought include having Government, who surely know what’s best, unilaterally decide and impose their decisions on Albertans, and/or having a short-sighted “profit only, profit now” mentality that robs from future generations. I’m so proud to be part of a level-headed group of people who believe Albertans know best how to deal with tough issues and that we can come to equitable terms in matters of competing interests through which all can benefit.

Tell me what you think.