Typically a prime event for the provincial government to make new agricultural announcements or for ministers to make speeches, this year’s Manitoba Ag Days will be devoid of any such politicking as a result of byelection rules.
In the past, various government organizations make up about 12 booths during the three-day event considered to be the biggest indoor agricultural expo in North America.
But at least two have pulled out of the upcoming 37th annual event all together — including Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship — while others have had to make significant tweaks to adhere to the rules.
While the Arthur-Virden constituency remains in a byelection to replace the seat made vacant by Brandon-Souris MP-elect Larry Maguire, the government is barred from advertising according to Manitoba’s Election Financing Act.
The byelection will be held on Jan. 28 and during this time "a government department or Crown agency must not advertise or publish any information about its programs or activities."
However, the speaker lineup remains the same, including a speech from Agriculture Minister Ron Kostyshyn and government speakers representing Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development but last-minute changes had to be made, such as getting rid of all government logos from slide presentations.
Ag Days general manager Christine Roskos said organizers were left scrambling to fill the vacant booths, which was finalized months before show doors open, but were able to pull from a 70-exhibitor waiting list.
"It came at us no more than two weeks ago, so it’s a bit of a crunch," she said.
"Obviously we need to adjust as well, but it’s unfortunate the byelection couldn’t have been called and been over and done with by the time Ag Days rolled around."
According to Roskos, the farm safety display — a large village filled with safety-related booths which includes leading participation from Manitoba Hydro and Manitoba Labour and Immigration — also had to go through significant changes.
In an emailed statement, a government spokesperson confirmed provincial representatives will be at the event attendees will still be able to garner information from government officials.
"Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development will continue to have a presence at Ag Days this year, with adjustments to ensure compliance with the Election Financing Act," the email read. "Producers and others who may have questions about programs and services will still be able to meet with MAFRD staff at the event."
Elections Manitoba spokesperson Alison Mitchell said the act’s provision makes sure the government doesn’t have an unfair advantage during election time.
Mitchell pointed to exceptions to the advertising rules including those relating to matters of public health or safety, among several others.
However, it’s not up to Elections Manitoba to determine if any rules are breached.
"It’s not our role to determine whether something falls within those exceptions," she said. "If there is a complaint that (a) provision has been violated, then a complaint could be made to the commissioner of elections and then he would investigate."
As of late, the governing NDP has come under fire from the Progressive Conservative Opposition for potentially breaking these rules, including a recent accusation that an election-day event to highlight the accomplishments of Nellie McClung, who helped win the right to vote for Manitoba women, "could" be a breach, according to a PC party press release.
So the PC caucus will be listening closely to the minister’s speech this week.
Close to 500 exhibitors will set up shop at Manitoba Ag Days, which gets underway on Tuesday at the Keystone Centre. The event, which wraps up on Thursday, runs daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Included in the speaker lineup is Prairie storm chaser Greg Johnson — for the three days of the show in the two seminar theatres.
Presentation topics will range from grain market outlooks, farm safety and stress and food safety to livestock management, land economics, farm finances and farm strategies.
Ag Days is a non-profit organization that survives solely on the revenues from exhibitor fees and sponsorship. Organizers have never charged an admission fee and will continue this tradition into the future.