Farm leaders plan to press ag issues

As Canada launched into its 41st election campaign after the combined opposition defeated the minority Conservative government March 26, farm leaders began compiling their wish lists.

They see the May 2 election as a chance to make political gains.

“If they get around to talking about issues, food has to be a big issue in the campaign,” Canadian Federation of Agriculture president Ron Bonnet said from Brussels, Belgium, where he was at meetings to try to create a new international farmers’ organization.

“It is in the news. It is, or should be, a front-line issue.”

The CFA said it will be pressuring candidates and parties to commit to more regional flexibility in federal funding for provincial farm support programs, political support for ecological goods and services payments to farmers for environmental contributions, more research funding and a national food policy.

CFA plans to host a mid-April debate between party agricultural representatives in Ottawa.

Grain Growers of Canada said it will press candidates to promise more research funding, fast action on rail service improvements, a commitment to expanded trade deals and work on how to allow prairie wheat and barley producers to market outside the Canadian Wheat Board without destroying the CWB for those who want to use it.

The future of the CWB monopoly single desk will be an issue across the West as Conservative candidates campaign for marketing choice and opposition candidates warn that a strong Conservative mandate will mean the demise of the wheat board.

“If the Conservatives get a majority, then the wheat board is gone,” NDP agriculture critic Alex Atamanenko said. “That will be a key issue for us.”

The national campaign, Conservative leader Stephen Harper’s fourth and Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff’s first, likely will contain little agricultural or rural content although the Liberals will promise a national food strategy and a rewrite of farm support policies driven by farmers.

Harper said he will campaign on the economy and what he sees as a threat that if the Conservatives are returned for the third time with a minority, opposition parties will gang up to form a coalition government. For the first time, he is publicly making a Conservative majority his goal and early public opinion polls suggest it is within reach.

“On May the second, we will choose between stable national government and a reckless coalition, between a low-tax plan for jobs and growth and a high-tax agenda that will stall our recovery, kill jobs and set families back,” he said as the campaign kicked off March 26.

Ignatieff denies the coalition plans and will campaign against what he calls a Conservative culture of arrogance, disregard for Parliament and democracy and reckless spending.

“Stephen Harper is out of touch with the priorities of Canadian families, and he’s led a government whose record of waste, contempt and abuse of power has gone out of control,” he said.

“It’s time for a change. It’s time to put equal opportunity back at the centre of Canadian life.”

The government fell on a non-confidence vote that centred on a committee finding of contempt of Parliament for failure to provide to MPs sufficient financial detail about the cost of crime bills.

New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton, fighting his fourth election as leader, will try to build on the 2008 result that recorded the party’s second-best showing ever including a dozen rural seats in British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario and Atlantic Canada.

In rural ridings that have been the core of minority Conservative governments since 2006, the debate may turn out to revolve around the role of Ottawa in supporting farmers and the Conservative argument that opposition parties have lost touch with rural Canada.

Liberal agriculture critic Wayne Easter said a theme in rural Canada will be a debate about government’s duty to support.

“From my perspective, this government claims to put farmers first but they’ve done anything but,” he said. “In this campaign, one thing I’ll be saying is that this government takes farmers for granted.”

Agriculture minister Gerry Ritz said the opposition will have to justify killing the government and the budget with its agricultural promises for an “unnecessary election.”

Canadian election facts

Although this will be the fourth election in seven years, it is not a Canadian record for parliamentary instability. That came between 1957 and 1963, when there were four elections in less than six years: 1957, 1958, 1962, &1963.

The minority Stephen Harper government survived for 29 months, a bit longer than the average for minority governments. The Canadian record for parliamentary brevity came in 1926 when the 15th Parliament headed by prime minister Arthur Meighen lasted barely seven months.

In the 2008 election, the second-highest number of Canadians cast a ballot in Canadian history -almost 14 million. It also was the lowest voter percentage turnout in history -58.8 percent. The record high was recorded in 1958 when 79.4 percent of Canadians voted to elect John Diefenbaker. The second highest turnout was 79.2 percent in 1963 when voters rejected the Diefenbaker government.

Just six of Canada’s 22 prime ministers have governed from a prairie base -Arthur Meighen (Manitoba), R.B. Bennett (Calgary), William Lyon Mackenzie King and John Diefenbaker (Prince Albert, Sask.), Joe Clark (Alberta) and Stephen Harper (Calgary).

Source: Staff research

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