On Budget Day, it was announced that the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency (ALMA) was going to be dissolved, along with five other boards and agencies that deal with agriculture, forestry and rural Alberta. ALMA was an agency that looked to increase customer access and market development, increase project differentiation, enhance productivity and create sustainable development. In Thursday’s budget estimates, my colleague Richard Starke questioned the Minister as to why the agency was being dissolved while they were still producing important research? My colleagues and I are worried that the integral market-based research that ALMA was doing might be lost.
Increasing value across the agri-food and forest sectors is a critical component to help further the diversification of Alberta’s economy. The government’s recent decision to allocate over $10 million to industry research and food processing services is welcome news. Aside from this, the government has found it difficult to come up with other ways to support agriculture and forestry as key economic drivers. I asked the Minister about what other value-added initiatives his government was working on – but the only other examples he could give were loan programs from AFSC.
The government has also been silent about a new softwood lumber agreement with the United States. This is an important mechanism to eliminate trade barriers between Alberta producers and our largest export market. The last agreement expired last year, and we are still waiting for this government to address these concerns. Also important for the industry is a strategy to increase our market share in the Asia-Pacific region. About 15 per cent of our exports go to countries in Asia, and this number will need to grow to ensure we remain competitive globally. Our government has committed $10 million over five years to fund initiatives related to Asian market access. The NDP government has not given any indication as to the current status of these important initiatives.
Finally, I was extremely disappointed that the Budget Speech did not mention agriculture or forestry and their importance to the Alberta economy until almost the very end. These sectors produce thousands of jobs and contribute billions of dollars in GDP and deserve much more respect that this government has shown in the year since they took office. The Progressive Conservatives are committed to standing proudly for these sectors and to making sure that they, and all those who rely on them, have the support they need.