Wildeman is president of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association
I don’t think you can say it enough — working together is the key. Yet trying to get everyone on the same page is inevitably easier said than done. The CCA faces a unique and critical role as the industry’s national voice. It must maintain strong, balanced representation to cohesively bring forward our provincial members’ interests.
In early March, we held a Provincial Leaders’ Meeting — a leadership forum and the first of its kind in our history. I wanted to hear our provincial members’ perspective on their relationship with the CCA. We also invited some key stakeholders to share their challenges and suggestions for working together better with the CCA. Representatives from the Canadian Beef Breeds Council (CBBC), National Cattle Feeders’ Association (NCFA) and the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency (CCIA) brought forward their experience and goals for working together.
Why hold the meeting?
The lack of profitability in our industry since BSE hit has become an overarching factor. With diminished returns and increasing operating costs, producers across the country face the same issue — economic survival and long-term sustainability. How they deal with this varies, based on their individual situations. We see our partnership with our members key to staying focused on the primary issues facing the industry. Part of this discussion included identifying ways to keep our members up-to-date in whatever way possible.
One of the CCA’s biggest challenges is communicating effectively with the grassroots producer. Since our provincial members maintain the frontline connection with these primary stakeholders, we needed to hear straight from the horse’s mouth in order to define these priorities.
At the end of the day, we face multiple priorities. How we tackle these and make sound decisions is important; but equally important is how we communicate this.
Looking at the top issues
As we expected, several issues naturally overlapped. From this, we developed a consensus on the top issues across the country to determine where the CCA needs to take the lead, work harder or adopt a more collaborative approach.
The current issues making the top five list included:
1. Mandatory country-of-origin labelling (mCOOL)
We have to look at the relationship between the CCA and cattle organizations in the United States, plus the roles our provincial and federal governments take on this issue. Although the provinces play a role, it ultimately affects the industry at a national level — this is where the CCA can take the lead. It’s absolutely critical to ensure that COOL doesn’t violate our international trade agreements, so we must commit a great deal of effort to this.
2. Business Risk Management (BRM) Programs
Over the past several months, it’s became painfully obvious that the current BRM programs aren’t working. The patchwork actions of provincial governments prove that. It begs the question as to whether they can even be fixed. It also seems apparent that governments aren’t capable of designing an effective program because they lack a coherent understanding of our industry. Therefore, it is likely that as an industry, we must design an effective program for them, and lobby for adoption with every province as well as the national government. This will take collaboration from all levels of government, the CCA and provincial associations.
3.Co-ordinating federal/provincial messaging
The messages CCA delivers to the federal government must mirror the messages that provincial organizations’ deliver to both their provincial governments and federal Members of Parliament. CCA’s role is to develop those co-ordinated, consistent messages for our provincial members and assist them with designing their lobbying strategies.
Ultimately cattle producers want to obtain their returns from the marketplace — not from support programs. We can’t let the immediate issues distract us from focusing on our long-term goal of building a solid foundation for the future. Access, advocacy and policy development must continue through a solid and unified action plan from all associations.
5. Environment goods and services (EG&S)
Cattle operations have always provided many of the solutions sought by governments in addressing several environmental issues: maintaining native grasslands and riparian areas, providing the habitat for the biodiversity of nature, plus protecting the wetlands and woodlands so important for carbon capture on carbon dioxide (CO2) reductions. EG&S serves as one vehicle for moving these issues forward — rewarding producers for their good production practices and protecting these assets for future generations. We’re not seeing much progress in resolving this issue, so a push at all levels of government may be needed to get it started.
Looking back, this forum was both productive and very beneficial. Gathering everyone together for a candid discussion is hard to do — especially with all that’s going on. So over the coming months, so we plan to speak directly with each provincial member to determine their specific needs and identify any shared opportunities to improve service to Canadian producers.