Out of touch

BEYOND THE HEADLINES: provincial government policies are out of step with reality

There’s more proof that provincial government policies are out of step with reality.

The Buy B.C. program will provide companies, marketing boards and associations matching funds from $5,000 to $100,000 to launch or expand local food marketing campaigns.

“Since being appointed minister, I have been meeting with farmers and  food processors in communities right across our province, and I have been hearing some great ideas on how we can promote our diverse British  Columbian food products,” said Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick in a release last week.

“Now is the time to turn those ideas into new  dollars for local food producers.”

All of these ideas are great but Letnick should have also heard about the anguish among farmers who have had their livelihood undermined by meat processing regulations.

Just in the North Okanagan alone, the number of meat producers has gone from 1,200 to 300 since the rules came into place in 2007. That has had a direct impact on the economy — much of it centred in Vernon — because farmers are not purchasing animal feed, buying vehicles, going to restaurants or hiring  workers.

What’s the point of making money available for marketing if consumers are struggling to access local food products they want on their plate?

But this isn’t the only example of the government being out of touch.

In September, Letnick  issued a release as part of B.C. Farmers Appreciation Week.

“I would like to recognize the importance that farmers have to B.C.’s economy and to the health of everyone who lives here,” he said at the time.

“Farmers are the heart of B.C. food  production, and nine out of 10 farms are family owned and operated.”

Except, that because of provincial rules, the heart is being ripped out of the North Okanagan.

“Small farms are hemorrhaging and there are huge social problems,” said Rick Fairbairn, a rancher and regional director for rural Lumby.

And it’s increasingly evident that not everyone in the Liberal caucus is pleased with the situation.

“We’re putting people out of business and in rural communities, this hurts a lot of people,” said Donna Barnett, parliamentary secretary for rural communities, as she met with the Regional District of North Okanagan board last week.

But even with pressure coming from within, absolutely nothing has changed. Victoria still refuses to issue class D and E licenses for on-farm slaughter.

Letnick has stated that possible changes to the rules may come before Christmas, but how many more farmers will have walked away by then?

It may not be evident to the Liberals but the meat processing fiasco is gaining legs and it will be an issue during next spring’s election. Many farmers and consumers aren’t likely to forget the damage that’s been done to the sector and the NDP and Conservatives will be more than willing to try and make political points.

Immediate action is required and that means doing more than sending out a press release.



Vernon Morning Star