What you want out of a politician is really the same thing you want out of a neighbour or friend.
You want someone you can count on — someone you can really depend on when the chips are down. You want someone who has your back — someone who doesn’t bail because a situation gets tough, but sticks up for you when maybe it might be more convenient to do otherwise.
Saskatchewan Agriculture minister Lyle Stewart strikes you as the kind of guy that would likely be a pretty good friend and neighbour. In fact, I’m guessing that those who live near his Pense-area farming and ranching operation would likely agree.
As my colleague Leader-Post Finance Editor Bruce Johnstone recently wrote: Stewart “doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to expressing how he really feels about things. Just ask the poor slob who tried to steal Stewart’s government-issue Taurus sedan a few years ago.”
Like any good friend or neighbour, you want a politician who doesn’t pull any punches — a stand-up person who doesn’t try to weasel out of tough situations. And when it comes to standing up for rural Saskatchewan, there’s a big difference right now between Stewart and his federal MP counterparts.
At issue is the “Growing Forward 2 farm program funding agreement” that was recently approved in Whitehorse by federal, provincial and territorial agriculture ministers.
Even before leaving for the Whitehorse meeting, Stewart expressed his reluctance to the new agreement. Stewart explained to reporters in Regina that Saskatchewan’s agriculture stakeholder groups had problems with some of the then-proposed changes and questioned whether others had done same level of consultation with their stakeholders.
The problems seems to centre around proposed changes to the AgriInvest program — the popular rainy day program in which 90 per cent of Saskatchewan producers have invested. Stewart and Saskatchewan producers didn’t want changed.
As problematic, however, was Ontario’s preference for current AgriStability income support program that the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan (APAS) simply want scrapped. Instead, Ottawa and others preferred changes to the program where the trigger for payouts would be raised to 85 per cent of a producers’ income instead of current 70 per cent. (The move reduce payments by as much as $411 million a year — a saving to the federal government of $1.3-billion.)
Well, after returning in Whitehorse, Saskatchewan’s agriculture minister candidly expressed his distaste for backroom deals he witnessed that resulted in these changes being a done deal. He said it felt like he “ate something rotten.”
The result of this horse-trading saw the feds reduce its contributions to AgriInvest to one per cent of producers’ allowable net sales.
As one might expect from a good neighbour, friend — or perhaps even a good politician — Stewart fought gamely for rural Saskatchewan’s interest. Sadly, the same can not be said for federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz whose interest seem mostly to be Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s directive to reduce federal costs.
This is a re-occuring theme in federal politics these days.
Yes, the Conservatives have pushed all the right buttons when it comes to easier issues like getting rid of the Liberals’ gun registry and implementing tougher sentencing for criminals.
But when it our MPs support programs for rural Saskatchewan like the Indian Head tree farm, federal community pastures and now the AgriIvest and AgriStability funds, Ritz and other Saskatchewan Conservative MPs have not stood up for this province.
And now we’re now hearing federal MPs and Conservative are supporters tell us that support for rural Saskatchewan may get worse if we seem federal boundary changes if we have more exclusively urban ridings in Saskatchewan?
This isn’t what one would expect from a neighbour, friend or politician. The feds could learn a lot from someone like Stewart.
Murray Mandryk has been covering provincial politics for over 15 years.