What has motivated former Progressive Conservative Minister Rick Swenson to revitalize the old PC party may be of less consequence than what he is now offering.
And what he and PCs may be offering rural voters is another right-wing option in the provincial election in 2016.
Some of you may have heard the Saskatchewan PCs’ recent radio advertising campaign questioning the $128-million deal announced last December that sees the Canada Pension Plan acquire 46,500 hectares of Saskatchewan farmland from Assiniboia Farmland LP.
“I believe that there are a number of Saskatchewan farmers and residents who are not fully aware that the Canada Pension Plan was allowed to purchase over 700 quarters of prime Saskatchewan farm land,” Swenson said in a press release. “Like the NDP Land Bank program of the 1980’s, an agency of government is competing against farm families who are looking to purchase farm land.”
Calling the deal “wrong both legally and morally” Swenson goes on to say it “puts the future of Saskatchewan farmland ownership at risk for generations”. The ad directs listeners to the PC Party website so that they can be part of “call to action”.
Early this spring, formally requested the Saskatchewan Farm Land Security Board investigate this land purchase, calling the deal a “precedent-setting sale of Saskatchewan’s greatest resource.”
“We need more farmers, not less,” Swenson said.
Of course, there may be more to the Swenson/PC opposition to the Saskatchewan Party government deal than simply policy.
Dissatisfaction with losing the Sask. Party Thunder Creek nomination to now-Agriculture Minister Lyle Stewart has long been seen as one of Swenson’s motivations for revitalizing the old PC party.
Swenson was been joined by Melville lawyer and fellow Grant Devine-era PC cabinet Grant Schmidt — who won the Melville-Saltcoats Sask. Party nomination but saw the win overturned by the party hierarchy. Up until now, the PCs didn’t seem to about much more than their personal/political vendettas.
But notwithstanding whatever their motivations may be, the PCs are now be giving Saskatchewan rural voters something they really haven’t in some time … real choice.
Swenson contends land ownership issue “draws a line between the PC party and the Sask. Party” that will likely have a lot of similar policies.
One of the prouder accomplishments of the Grant Devine government was changes to Farmland Security Act that placed restrictions on the ability of trust companies to own farmland, he said.
Certainly, he could also point to the PC government’s $25 per acre loans and securing of billion-dollar farm subsidies in the 1980s as further evidence of the Devine government’s desire to keep as many farm operations viable as possible.
While the PC leader said he has no problem with other Canadians owning Saskatchewan farmland, he does have a problem with large corporate interests buying large swaths of Saskatchewan farmland and driving up rental prices.
By contrast, the Sask. Party Agriculture Ministry seems quite content seeing Saskatchewan’s 40,000 farmers reduced to 10,000, he said. “I think part of it is philosophical with these guys — bigger is better.”
Of course, with the Sask. Party taking three-quarters the vote in half the rural ridings in the 2011 election and winning every rural seat with more than 50 per cent of the vote, the PCs are hardly a threat to the Sask. Party.
But that may work to the PCs’ advantage.
For years now, the choice for many rural voters was strictly about what one party could beat the NDP that seemed removed from the free-market farm economy.
However, with the NDP no threat to form government anytime in the foreseeable future, the re-emergence of the PCs may become an option for unhappy rural voters to still send a message to the Sask. Party government.
And rural voters haven’t had many options for a long time.
Murray Mandryk has been covering provincial politics for over 22 years.