NDP political operatives have been telling anybody who will listen for nearly a week that the Tories and the hog farmers have made a secret pact on Lake Winnipeg.
The Dipper spin machine got cranked up last week when dozens of hog farmers didn't show up after registering to speak on Bill 46 (The Save Lake Winnipeg Act) in committee. One after another, their names were called out on the evening of June 13, but nobody rose to speak. They weren't there.
The Conservatives had surprised the NDP by voting for the bill on second reading, and now about six dozen hog farmers and Manitoba Pork officials had decided against speaking against legislation that handcuffs hog farmers as Bill 17 did in 2008. Why didn't the farmers come to protest? Why did the Tories back the bill in second reading? (The House would later unanimously pass Bill 46 during at third reading.) It must be because the Tories had assured the hog farmers they would rip up Bill 46 if they ever got to power, according to the NDP spin specialists. That kept the hog producers from venting their anger, journalists were told.
So I called the hog producers' lobby group, Manitoba Pork, last week to check out the rumour that the hog farmers and the Tories had cut some secret deal over Bill 46. Andrew Dickson, the organization's general manager, said no way. "It was a silent protest," he said in explaining the farmers' absence.
When the NDP brought in Bill 17 prohibiting hog barn expansion in the eastern half of Manitoba, more than 300 angry farmers and industry officials spoke against the legislation at committee, and the "government never changed a word" of it, Dickson said. He said the province had also let it be known that it was not prepared to make any amendments to Bill 46. So the hog producers decided their silence was the best protest. And they didn't let the Conservatives in on it, said Dickson.
Karl Kynoch, Manitoba Pork's chairman, appeared before the committee on its second and final night of hearings Tuesday -- but only after being asked to attend by Agriculture Minister Stan Struthers, Dickson said. Kynoch read from a letter of protest the pork council had sent to the government about the legislation.
Hugh McFadyen's Conservatives opposed Bill 17, but supported Bill 46. The NDP will make political hay out of that.
But the pork council says it's wrong for hog farmers and its organization to be caught in this political game. "We're apolitical," Dickson said. "We deal with the government of the day. We do not engage in party politics. It's an absolute rule."