There is no doubt that the federal Conservative government has been farmer- and rural friendly.
Solid rural support is why the Conservatives have captured 12 or 13 of the 14 Saskatchewan federal seats for the past decade … and it is also why the Conservatives are fighting tooth and nail to preserve the present split urban-rural federal ridings in this province.
This is not a product of some enduring love for the cities or even a reflection of the Conservative MPs’ sincere belief that split urban/rural ridings are more reflective of Saskatchewan nature.
The Conservatives are confidence they’ve got the rural vote sewn up — a reasonably safe assumption, given the size of their wins in predominately rural ridings like Cypress Hills-Grasslands, Yorkton-Melville, Moose Mountain or Kindersley-Lloydminster.
Knowing that they will get three-quarters of the rural vote (as the Saskatchewan Party generally does in provincial elections) gives the Conservatives incentive to want keep split rural-urban ridings where powerful rural support dilutes New Democrat or Liberal support from the cities.
This is not to say that Conservative rural support hasn’t been earned. Philosophically speaking, the Conservatives better reflect the older, more conservative views of rural people on issues both social and economic. And give the Conservatives credit for dispensing with massively unpopular long firearm registry brought in by a Liberal government and supported by the federal NDP.
Even the end of the Canadian Wheat Board’s monopoly as a single-desk seller was far more popular than residents of the cities realized.
Votes to keep the CWB monopoly on wheat and barley mostly reflected those who were allowed to vote — retired farmers/landowners and smaller producers. They did not necessarily reflect those producing the most wheat and barley, thus most restricted by the single-desk selling rules. Perhaps not everyone in rural Saskatchewan opposed the CWB monopoly, but many rural residents did see it as inherently unfair. At the very least, it tapped into the streak of independence in rural people that are often frustrated with government making their tough way to earn a living even tougher.
That said, this is not the only personality trait of the rural voter.
There is also a sense of sharing in rural settings that’s founded on the need to help a neighbour or even a stranger who may be struggling in sometimes harsh and isolated rural settings.
And it’s in this year’s federal budget where the Conservatives may finally have crossed the line into becoming less rural-friendly.
Actually, it probably started in last year’s budget that saw the demise of 112-year-old shelterbelt program at Indian Head, the community pasture program and 100s of jobs in the federal Agriculture department and Canada Food Inspection Agency.
In isolation, farmers and rural folks might be able to rationalize that the need for shelterbelts is a thing of past with today’s direct seeding techniques and increasingly valued farm land. And bureaucrat jobs aren’t always seen as a farm/rural issue.
But even very right-wing farmers and ranchers benefit from having trees around their yard sites. And they certainly value of CFIA inspectors when they insuring that lax safety standards at giant packing plants aren’t grinding the beef industry to a halt.
Now, add in the eagerness of the federal government in this budget to extract itself from all farm safety net like AgriStability.
The rural-friendly Conservatives have ridden on their reputation of being more in-tune with rural/agricultural Canada. But while it’s one thing to end despised urban-based policies like the long gun registry, it’s quite another to take away things from which rural people benefit.
Again, there are those who will see the end of CWB monopoly as anything but a bad thing. However, ending other support programs or safety nets may be less welcomed.
And it may even put a strain on the Conservatives’ relationship with rural voters.
Murray Mandryk has been covering provincial politics for over 22 years.