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Thread: Advocacy and democracy

  1. #1
    Dennis Lapierre
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    Advocacy and democracy

    Some of you will have read an article in the recent Country Life magazine that questioned the democracy of advocacy. As one of the interviewees in the article, I was referring to the BCAC.

    I think it is important to realize a couple of things. The BCAC is a private advocacy or, if you like, lobby organization. It is not a public organization. It is one bought and paid for by its membership. It is its membership that decides what and in what way it intends to speak to the province on matters of interest to its membership. Its Board of Directors comprises membership of a variety of agricultural commodity organizations, plus a Community Agriculture representative. The Community Agriculture representative is understood to reflect the sentiments, concerns and interests of non-commodity specific small farms and niche market farms…. which comprise about 70% of BC’s farming community (but which generate only about 20% of BC’s total farmgate receipts).

    The BCAC presents itself as being representative of BC’s entire farming community.

    As BC’s only general farm organization, the province has come to rely on the BCAC for feedback, input and guidance on matters that relate to policies and legislation that affect BC’s agricultural community. The province more or less accepts the representational role the BCAC claims.

    For the BCAC, that is a compliment. It has established a relationship with the province over time that makes it what academics would call an “institutional pressure group”. It is a carefully built relationship based on trust, awareness of how government operates, and personal contacts.

    Where an institutional pressure group meets the ideal, it plays a valuable role in furthering the Canadian political process.

    Such groups can be especially valuable when the province conducts stakeholder consultations.

    In the last 2-3 years, the province has consulted with the BCAC on many matters, not the least of which are matters relating to legislative reviews or updates. Such have included the Meat Regulations, Agricultural Waste, the Water Modernization Act, Animal Health and others.

    None of these consultations occur for free. There is a cost to sending BCAC representatives to these sessions. There are mileage, meal, hotel and per diem costs. Costs vary depending on where the meetings occur, their frequency, and how far the representative lives away from the meeting site. Most meetings occur in Abbotsford, with some occurring in Victoria and the odd one occurring in Kamloops. For the Community Ag sector, the cost for attending each meeting has been between $500 and $800.

    Because these are costs that are over and above the cost of belonging to the BCAC, member organizations whose representatives attend the sessions generally absorb the cost of sending their members.

    Not so with the Community Agriculture sector representative. This is because the cost of attending has long been beyond the affordability of the sector.

    Until this year, the rest of the BCAC member organizations have absorbed the cost of ensuring the presence of the community perspective at these sessions. Whether it was simple generosity or a realization that for the BCAC to claim to represent the entire agricultural community it needed the presence of the community at these consultations, the fact is, it paid the way.

    This practice has ended.

    One reason is BCAC budget constraints. There may be others. But, the fact is that unless a way can be found to pay the cost of attending these stakeholder consultations, the voice of the community farm will simply not be heard.

    Is having input into the policies, laws and regulations as they may apply directly to you important to you?

    How should this be addressed?

  2. #2
    New Member
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    I have mixed feelings. Having but one person represent 70% of farmers seems like a token gesture, like having one black person on a commission that determines housing discrimination policy.

    Not to denigrate the fine work you do, Dennis, but perhaps its too much to ask for BCAC to even pretend to represent small farmers, and instead, something that already does so, such as the National Farmers Union, should be encouraged to take more leadership? No easy answers!
    :::: Jan Steinman, EcoReality Co-op ::::

  3. #3

    I'm sorry to hear this, Dennis. I wonder if it would be helpful to convene a number of folks on the phone - Direct Farm Marketing Association, BC Food
    Systems Network, yourself, other Farmers Institute reps - to discuss how to keep channel open to the Province. Certainly there are people in the Ministry of Agriculture who are receptive to farm perspectives other than / complementary to BCAC.

    Lack of voice is a long-standing concern for the place-based, multi-commodity, or smaller farm operations who are an important part of BC's agriculture sector. In many cases these operations are stars on our culinary scene and big attractors of tourism and local business. They can also be sources of innovation.

    I'd be interested in others' views on the relative benefits of being a marginalized voice in a commercial commodity advocacy group or being a separate community-based voice coming to government with other organizations or from other venues.

    Let me know if you need help setting up a free conference call.

  4. #4
    Dennis Lapierre
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    This from Diane Tuck. Incidentally, if you have forgotten your password and want to respond to this thread, you can send me your response via e-mail.

    The BCAC has a very important roll in representing small famers at government meetings. Currently, agriculture in this province is declining as a number of our farmers are reaching ages beyond 75. They cannot continue with the demanding physical, long hours of hard work, and then mountains of paper work to complete for government in their evenings. Their children have moved on to other careers and in a number of cases, do not even live close by to offer a helping hand.

    At a time when the provincial government is promoting healthy eating practices, encouraging consumers to shop locally, and are concerned about the carbon foot-print for future generations, I would think that they would support the one organization that has had success in representing a large percentage of the farming community. As the input of a BCAC representative is as important to the government (whose roll is to represent the people of this province), as it is to the farmers it represents, is there no way to lobby our MLA's for 100% financial coverage of these trips? As tax payers, we are paying for the travel costs of the government employees. Therefore, the government should also be paying for the travel costs of our farm industry's representatives to ensure fair representation.

  5. #5
    Dennis Lapierre
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    Advocacy and democracy

    As a matter of follow-up and to keep you informed, what I've done since the last note is compose a plea to the Minister of Agriculture and once again argued my case to the BCAC Board.

    The substance of my plea was this: The BCAC purports to represent about 3/4 of the provinces producers. The province relies on the BCAC to echo the sentiments of all BC producers in order to get a strong sense of the ag communities views on policy considerations, and the like. Similarly, producers expect the BCAC to carry forward their concerns and issues and press for policy changes that complement the interests in common of the BC agricultural community.

    It is in the interest of both the BCAC and the Province to be confident that the sentiments reflect the interests of the whole community.

    Despite the fact that the Community Agriculture seat is a creation of the BCAC Board, it has chosen not to support it when it comes to it having a presence at stakeholder meetings where legislative changes are considered (Water Act, Animal Health, Waste Management, to name a few) and a presence in direct discussions with provincial politicians and high level bureaucrats. The price of that is absorbed by the commodities that show up, so the price should be afforded by the Community Ag sector.

    This is a reasonable argument except for the fact that in its absence, assuming most of the 82- 84% of the very small and small farms that comprise the BC agriculture community do not belong to any organization, the legitimacy of the representation the BCAC claims and upon which the province relies on raises serious questions. What, in fact is the case, is that the BCAC is speaking for the interests of the small minority of large producers, with the Community Ag seat having little more opportunity than usually to react to representations already made when raised at BCAC Board meetings. The BCAC still covers the costs of all Board members attending BCAC general Board meetings.

    The net outcome? Whatever derives from stakeholder consultations with respect to legislative changes will derive in the absence of input on behalf of the many very small and small farms in BC. Whatever needs members of those communities are concerned about (say, letting elderly farmers stay on their land after retirement...that was one the Community Ag sector was able to raise with effect in a direct discussion with the Minister) will have to be expressed via different routes.

    In response to my plea to the Minister, the Deputy Minister essentially said it was happy with its relationship with the BCAC.

    In once again making my case to this BCAC Board, it stood its ground.

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