BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Farm families not first

B.C.’s Liberal government claims it’s all about Families First, but that’s nothing more than lip service in the North Okanagan.

B.C.’s Liberal government claims it’s all about Families First, but that’s nothing more than lip service in the North Okanagan.

The Ministry of Health continues to ignore the plight of local farmers and the financial hardships they have experienced at the hands of provincial meat regulations that came into force in 2007.

“We’ve gone from 1,200 to 300 producers and we’re losing them daily,” said Janice Brown, a Regional District of North Okanagan director.

Brown and other local politicians expected to plead the case of farmers directly to Health Minister Michael de Jong last week.

But an anticipated meeting with the minister shifted from Lumby to Kelowna because of his schedule, and then the Kelowna session was cancelled all together because of de Jong’s apparently jam-packed timetable.

That left Vernon-Monashee MLA Eric Foster scrambling and trying to reassure RDNO board members that the government truly does care about farmers and local communities.

“I will contact the minister and set something up as soon as I can,” said Foster.

When asked, Foster was reluctant to speculate on why his government isn’t addressing  longstanding concerns about the regulations.

“I can’t answer that. I’m trying to get an answer to that myself,” he said.

If de Jong were to take the time to meet with  local elected representatives, he would understand that all they and area meat producers are demanding is equity with other regions in B.C.

Currently in some parts of the province, the ministry issues class D and E licences to meat producers. A class D licence allows for the on-farm slaughter of up to 25 animal units with one animal unit equaling 1,000 pounds liveweight. That would mean 25 cows, 2,500 chickens, 40 pigs and 300 lambs. A class E licence allows for the slaughter of up to 10 animal units.

Such a license is unavailable in the North Okanagan, and that has created significant challenges for farmers wanting to slaughter their livestock and sell it at the farm gate.

On the Liberal website, party president Sharon White says, “The B.C. Liberal Party is on the move — helping British Columbia deal with uncertainty in the global economy and putting families first. We would like you to be a part of this work.”

It’s likely that White is unaware that it is government policies actually creating uncertainty in the North Okanagan economy — not world markets — or that the number of families dependent on meat production for their livelihood has dropped from 1,200 to 300 in five years.

But farmers and consumers aren’t the only ones being left high and dry.

Similar to the protracted debate over overcrowding at Vernon Jubilee Hospital, the Liberals are doing absolutely nothing to throw Foster a political lifeline less than a year away from an election. He keeps defending the party and its inability to correct a serious situation, but as a result, his own fortunes are undermined.

North Okanagan politicians are now making plans to travel to Victoria to state their case for D and E processing licenses. It’s an unfortunate expense as de Jong was just here in the region, but it clearly indicates that the regional district isn’t ignoring the gravity of this economic crisis.

Let’s hope de Jong can free up a few minutes in his busy schedule this time around.

—Richard Rolke is the senior reporter for The Morning Star