Fourth year Bachelor of Management in Economics student, Sarah Warwick from Hanna, reports:
Minister Verlyn Olson, MLA for the Wetaskwin-Camrose constituency, spoke in Augustana’s Agricultural Economics class on Monday, October 27th.
Olson discussed his responsibility and involvement as Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development. He also spoke on the importance and challenges of Agriculture in Alberta’s economy.
Olson outlined his primary responsibilities, which included the planning, organization and operations of 295 Agricultural Societies. His division of responsibility also includes the communication with approximately 70 Agricultural Service Boards. Areas of focus that Minister Olson mentioned included crops, business and economics, food safety, livestock, food processing, rural services and trade.
Olson stated that agriculture is the second largest industry in Alberta, next to the Oil and Gas Industry. He emphasized the importance of renewable resources, and we must strive to keep it the “heart and soul” of Alberta.
Some challenges that Alberta faces is finding ways to add value to our resources. As a province, we must build a more complex and sophisticated economy that will help support and conserve our natural resources.
Another challenge that Olson mentioned the department faces are trade barriers. Currently, there are specific trade concerns focusing in areas of health and labelling. These emerging regulations seem to be a dominant theme, and will soon be addressed by the WTO (World Trade Organization).
Grain transportation was another challenge that Olson mentioned. He indicated that the Canadian Transportation Act is aiming to come up with a collective vision at both the provincial and federal level for future transportation. Many factors are considered in such a huge project including aspects of infrastructure, environment, information, operations, management, safety, health, efficiency, energy, land, work, service and accessibility.
The last issue that Olson addressed included labour. Due to the high competition in the oil and gas sector, and limitations in the Agricultural sector, the provincial and federal government must come up with solutions to provide jobs for our citizens.
Olson’s closing statement suggested the establishment and growth initiative for industry and business development in rural Alberta. He encouraged the empowerment of environmental entrepreneurship and developing value-added opportunities.
Second year Economics student, Cassandra Olsen from Ferintosh, reports:
Our AUECO 346 Agricultural Economics class was fortunate enough to be able to have the Honourable Verlyn Olson join the class on Monday October, 27, 2014. It was a very positive experience to be able to have Minister Olson share his personal experiences in politics and agriculture, as well as being able to hear about some of the issues the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta is having in regards to Rural Alberta and how they intend to solve these difficulties.
Minister Olson has lived in Camrose and the Wetaskiwin area his entire life and has very deep-rooted connections with the community. He and his three children attended Augustana Campus for their education, and Minister Olson only had positive comments to share about the campus and its progress, saying that the decision to merge with the University of Alberta, he feels, was a very positive decision for growth and sustainability. Spending his first two years at university here on campus, as well as being a former Viking hockey player, the minister had some very interesting personal stories that were shared.
Mr. Olson went on to share with us how he got his start into Alberta and Canadian politics, first practicing as a successful lawyer in the area for over thirty years, and then finally running for office in the 2000 election, where he lost to Kevin Sorenson. However, this did not hinder his drive to get involved and he ran again in the 2008 provincial elections, and was successfully appointed Minister of Justice for the province when Alison Redford ran for Premier.
The minister mentioned that this was a comfortable fit for him, having practiced law for so many years, and stated that the switch to becoming Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development has been “very time consuming, but very rewarding”. Minister Olson prides himself on establishing good connections with community members and had had experience dealing with rural issues before as a practicing lawyer with clients from rural settings.
The minister then talked about the difference between being a “backbencher” in the Legislature, and now being a part of the provincial cabinet. As a “backbencher” he feels he had more time to spend with his individual constituents, whereas, now being in the cabinet, there are more people higher up to please and he is finding it more challenging to spend as much time in constituencies as he spends much more time on the road.
Verlyn Olson presented himself as a community builder and he takes great pride in being someone who sits down, and makes lasting connections with the people of his constituencies. The Minister also discussed with us, what was actually under his portfolio including his responsibility for over 295 agricultural societies, rural electrification associations and rural gas co-ops, and more than seventy agriculture service boards. On top of this, Minister Olson is responsible for looking at the agricultural commodity industry in Alberta, including the production of such commodities as high value crops like dill and mint, monitoring supply-managed industry (quota restrictions) as well as irrigation of such crops.
Minister Olson also shared some of the issues that his department is concerned with and some insight as to how he and his department intend to tackle these issues. One of the issues discussed pertained to trade barriers, especially amongst Canada and the United States regarding the mandatory country of origin labeling (COOL) restrictions put on Canadian meat products by the United States. It was beneficial to hear some of the underlying facts about this issue. He also went on to mention a little bit about the Farm Bill being used to categorize which meats must be separated and labeled. Mr. Olson also talked a bit about the issues regarding slow grain transportation and the battles with CN and CP to speed up transport and make it more accessible to all Albertan farmers. Lastly, Minister Olson touched upon the very important Alberta labor shortage issue, which is becoming more and more prominent in the agricultural sector due to increased interest in the oil and gas industry.
Throughout the entire presentation, there was never an ill word spoken about any other members of the legislative assembly. Verlyn Olson spoke very kindly about the new Premier Jim Prentice, and also about the “wonderful staff” Mr. Olson has the pleasure of working with. He stressed the importance of making strong connections with the community and all of his constituents in order to promote a healthy, continually developing rural Alberta. He also mentioned that he feels that more respect needs to be brought into politics so that issues may be solved in a positive manner, and colleagues should always show respect to one another in order to bond as allies.
Verlyn Olson portrayed himself as a man genuinely concerned and committed to helping his community and all those within it. He was very pleasant to listen and to talk to, as well as very approachable. It was a very positive experience to be able to attend his presentation, for it was very enlightening as to the ways our government works and how it solves our issues as constituents. It was nice to hear a new perspective on some of these concerns, as well as it was amusing and educational to hear his life experiences and anecdotal tidbits and the perspective they had to offer.