Doug Hart, co-chair of the rural caucus of Alberta’s governing NDP, was pleasantly surprised Friday morning, Aug. 28, when 13 MLAs turned up for a meeting in Ponoka on agricultural matters instead of the expected nine, an indication that the NDP leadership is making an effort to engage rural Alberta to ensure that they are seen as the party of all Albertans and not only of their urban voter base.
Participants at the meeting included representatives of various rural and agricultural organizations with their focus areas ranging from rural infrastructure to food security to surface rights.
The meeting was closed to the media after the opening session, which, according to Hart, was aimed at allowing the participants to speak freely and ask any questions they may need answers for without any other considerations.
Bruce Hinkley, former head of the NDP rural caucus and now the Wetaskiwin MLA at the provincial legislature, said during a break at the meeting that the event was conceived of as a platform to establish the communication lines between the stakeholders of rural Alberta and the NDP leadership.
“This is going to lead to new policies to help to move on to making Alberta a better place,” Hinkley said.
He added that they wanted to show to rural constituents that NDP did not have an agenda based on a rural-urban split and to make sure that they would have heard the voice of the rural stakeholders before embarking on generating long term policies. .
Hinkley said while the meeting was not the beginning of a series of similar events, it was going to lead to increased networking between rural and agricultural organizations and the NDP MLAs and more contacts and interaction at the bilateral level.
The rural organizations represented at the meeting were National Farmers Union, Alberta Growing Food Security Network, AAMDC, Alberta Rural Electrification Alliance, Association of Agricultural Societies, Surface Rights Group, among others.
Speaking at opening session, Ponoka County Reeve Paul McLauchlin singled out Internet as a particular area where rural Alberta needed help to improve agricultural practices.
He said Youtube had changed the way the younger generation was getting information on farming practices and that better access to Internet had become a key for farming communities to keep up with the rapid changes in the agricultural world.