BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Agriculture bumped again

Despite all of the talk, it’s obvious the provincial government doesn’t care about agriculture and its role in the economy.

Despite all of the talk, it’s obvious the provincial government doesn’t care about agriculture and its role in the economy.

Since June 2008, there have been seven agriculture ministers. Now it should be pointed out that Stan Hagen tragically died in office but the rest have been a revolving door of new faces.

Agriculture is complex as the commodities range from Okanagan fruit and Fraser Valley vegetables to Cariboo beef and coastal seafood. All of them experience diverse challenges, including international competition and urban growth.

As it is, a minister has barely found the washroom, let alone become comfortable with the job, and the deck’s being shuffled again.

Norm Letnick, the outgoing MLA for Kelowna-Lake Country was shown the door last week, after only being minister since September 2012.

While a college instructor by profession, Letnick demonstrated a clear interest in promoting agriculture, even going as far as hosting a dinner comprised of nothing but B.C. products.

And perhaps because of where he lives, he showed an affinity for the Okanagan scene and he made himself available to industry representatives and politicians.

Regional District of North Okanagan officials are being polite as they will have to work with Pat Pimm, the new minister, but they are clearly disappointed to see Letnick gone. They had established a good working relationship with him and they felt progress was being made to ease up on onerous meat processing rules.

They will now have to start from scratch, making Pimm aware of the North Okanagan’s specific concerns.

Speaking to a friend who raises livestock, her response was, “Argh, yet another new minister that we have to teach all about it.”

If you look over the same time period, there  has been stability for ministries related to forestry and mining. There’s even a portfolio for natural gas development now. Of course that isn’t a surprise as natural gas is the economic flavour of the month.

But it’s important to note that agriculture isn’t a sunset industry.

According to ministry figures, agriculture, aquaculture, commercial fishing and food processing generated $10.9 billion in combined gross revenue in 2011. Of that, there was $2.4 billion in international exports and $3.6 billion in interprovincial exports.

Here in the North Okanagan, numerous families still depend on farming for their livelihood and the money they make goes back into restaurants, grocery stores, auto dealerships and other businesses.

Obviously establishing a cabinet was challenging for Premier Christy Clark. She has to consider a range of factors such as skill base and ensuring every region of the province has a voice.

But it’s still difficult to know why Letnick was bumped out of agriculture and named parliamentary secretary to the premier for intergovernmental affairs.

A government news release said the position of parliamentary secretary to the premier for intergovernmental affairs will have him working with the provincial Intergovernmental Relations Secretariat in the premier’s office to further the interests of B.C. at intergovernmental events. Huh?  No wonder Letnick isn’t sure what his new duties will entail.

Pimm comes from the Peace River country, which is a hub for grain production. But his career experience is in oil and gas and political life has seen him involved in the aboriginal affairs and finance committees.

There is the chance that Pimm may be a strong voice for agriculture, but given what has happened in recent years, he may not want to get too attached to the minister’s office.

—Richard Rolke is the senior reporter for The Morning Star