This is a bit of a diversion from my usual fare, but if I’m willing to post it elsewhere, why not my own blog first? And so I give you my take on #politics.
There’s been (yet another) furor making the rounds on social media in past days. When Vancouver-based Earls announced recently that they would no longer be sourcing their beef from Alberta producers, the Internet – fueled by political blowhards – erupted in anger. How dare a Canadian company reject Alberta beef in favor of foreign, Certified Humane beef?
Brian Jean, leader of the Wildrose Official Opposition in Alberta, was quick to enter the fray, tweeting: “Disappointed to see @earlsrestaurant move away from Alberta Beef. Alberta farmers work hard to produce the best beef in the World.” Alberta Progressive Conservative leader, Ric McIver was even less savvy in his pithy Twitter response, saying: “Let’s hope every bar and restaurant NOT called Earls has an increase in business. I will not be setting foot in that place!”
Former federal Conservative cabinet minister, Monte Solberg, likewise felt the need to chime in via Twitter, writing, “Earls is caving to hysteria on humane treatment and hormones. I’ll take my business elsewhere.”
Ignoring the total lack of empirical evidence to support the claim that Alberta beef is “the best beef in the world”, Jean is right – it is disappointing. But also not surprising. The move toward ethically-slaughtered livestock raised free of hormones – and, in some cases, antibiotics and other chemicals – has been bubbling at the surface of our collective social conscious for years.
Albertans, and our political Right, say they want a free market. However, when faced with the potentially negative repercussions of said freedom, they balk. And they do it loudly, publicly, and – notably in the case of Mr. McIver – irrationally. It’s this ‘Equality for all… so long as I’m more equal’ mentality that serves no one and, frankly, makes Albertans look childish.
The sky is falling!
The continually low global price of oil has dealt a significant blow to our province, not only directly to the oil and gas sector, but to the countless industrial, corporate and private operations that rely on business generated by the industry. Unemployment rates continue to rise, and while our political leaders – both provincial and federal – seem to relish the opportunity to play The Blame Game in question period, on Twitter and in the media, many leapt at the chance to echo Chicken Little over the Earls decision. On April 28, outspoken Wildrose finance critic, Derek Fildebrandt vowed live on the air at CBC that he would eat Alberta beef every day the following week in a show of solidarity and support for the industry, while controversial politico Craig Chandler announced his resignation from the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta board on April 29 following a xenophobic Facebook comment accusing Earls of supporting terrorism because one of their suppliers provides halal-certified products.
Would our political leaders be less prone to overreaction if Alberta’s economic and employment situation were more stable? Who’s to say. Regardless, it’s become par for the course for many political leaders to use their status and platform to incite fear and divisiveness. But when political leaders encourage a boycott of a Canadian company on the grounds that said company vetted providers and came to a socially-, ethically- and economically-sound decision because… it’s easier to vilify Earls than hammer away at the broader issues? After they – Earls – reportedly spent two years attempting to use Certified Humane beef from Alberta, but were unable to source enough local product to sustain their demand? Ridiculous.
As Albertans, we can be proud of our ranching heritage and the marketable items it produces. Being from the city, and having never lived or worked on a farm or ranch, I can only speculate as to the enormous amount of work, effort, dedication and cost required to maintain an agricultural operation, including the raising and slaughtering of livestock. But as part of the world economy, and even the local economy, businesses have long known that they may need to gradually – or even rapidly – alter or adjust their practices in order to remain relevant and meet the demands of the consumer. According to an April 28 episode of CBC Calgary’s The Homestretch, Canadian beef producers claim to maintain some of the highest standards in the world and that, if Earls were to look closely, most Canadian beef providers already meet many, if not all, the qualifications needed to receive the Certified Humane stamp of approval. But rather than receive official certification, many producers reject this step as redundant, effectively – and, one could conclude, knowingly – withdrawing themselves from the competition for Earls’ business.
As a born-and-raised Albertan, I refuse to give credence to the notion that our province is populated by redneck yokels blithely unaware of our position in the world and blind to the views and opinions of others. But the online reaction to the Earls announcement is both hypocritical and inane. The conversation around ethically producing hormone free – or even GMO free – food, whether meat, vegetable, or otherwise, has been ringing louder and louder for several years now. In the past few years alone, iconic Canadian fast food chain A&W announced they were moving to hormone-, steroid- and preservative-free beef, and later antibiotic-free chicken, declarations they continue to trumpet repeatedly in advertisements.
Just last year, even McDonald’s entered the discussion, announcing that they too would source only chicken raised without the use of antibiotics. While there are those detractors who argued – as Mr. Solberg did in his April 27 tweet – that Earls is “caving to hysteria on humane treatment and hormones”, the evidence is clear: consumers care about these things, which means producers and retailers need to as well.
As consumers, we have the privilege – if not the responsibility – to vote with our dollar by choosing to support, or not support, companies, producers and organizations who want our business; who require our business to survive. So go ahead and boycott Earls if you chose, but it’s a hollow political statement unless you likewise refuse to support the countless other organizations who, for one reason or another, may have ruled us out because we have not stepped up and adapted to the changing demands of the market.
Earls isn’t at fault here – Alberta is. This isn’t an opportunity to harass a company that, according to the CBC, took pains for several years to source their beef from Canadian suppliers but were ultimately unable to do so because the local industry failed to provide the quality and quantity required. No, this is instead an opportunity for the Alberta – and Canadian – beef industry to review and potentially revise their standards to bring their product in-line with industry demand; to better meet the needs of the consumer and prove that Alberta beef truly is among the best in the world.
More than that, however, this situation presents all Albertans with the opportunity to critically review and reflect on the reactionary mentality displayed time and again by many of our political leaders, leaders who use their status as soapbox not to drive constructive conversation and contribute to ethical, valuable policy change, but to disparage others, incite fear and promote anger. To those political leaders – like Mr. McIver and Mr. Solberg – I say: if you reject the notion of raising and slaughtering livestock in a humane fashion; if the presence of substantiated, standardized proof of ethical treatment is unpalatable; if you vow to cease supporting a business on the grounds that it reformed its standards to protect Canadians – particularly after said company went to great pains to offer Canadian and Alberta producers the opportunity to maintain their relationship; if you see your role as a political leader to promote and provoke hostility, then you are 1) not presenting the best case for Alberta, its people or its industries, and 2) I’m pretty sure companies – like Earls – won’t mind a bit when you take your opinions, and your business, elsewhere.
A lot has been said on this issue already. A few articles of note include:
“Where’s the beef? Alberta’s cattle industry is only getting what it ordered from Earls”, by David Climenhaga, Rabble.ca, 29 April 2016
“Earls Responds to Alberta Critics”, The Ryan Jesperson Show, CHED AM630, 29 April 2016
“Earls decision a ‘slap in the face’ for Alberta ranches, but some experts say Canadian beef industry dropped the ball”, by Amanda Stephenson, Calgary Herald, 29 April 2016
“Earls’ beef decision hacks away at a vestige of Alberta-ness: ‘It’s not clear what we have left'”, by Bill Kaufmann, Calgary Sun, 28 April 2016
“Earls restaurants’ move to drop Alberta beef provokes backlash”, by David Bell, CBC Calgary, 27 April 2016