Ag minister has full plate but must heed farmers first

New federal agriculture minister Lawrence MacAulay of Prince Edward Island will apply a much different political agenda in a much changed agricultural landscape compared to his Conservative predecessor.


From 2007 until the recent election, Gerry Ritz successfully pursued the Conservative agenda to reduce government involvement in agriculture. 


The prime examples were eliminating the Canadian Wheat Board’s single desk and reducing the role of the Canadian Grain Commission.


His tenure coincided with a boom in the crop sector sustained by American ethanol policy, growing global food demand and crop failures in key production regions.


MacAulay, at 69 a long-term federal politician and previously a seed potato grower and dairy farmer, takes over the portfolio on the downhill side of the commodity cycle, when global grain stocks are rising, crop profits are scarce and the global economy is still struggling.


The Liberals don’t have a clear agenda for western Canadian agriculture, but they have several platforms sure to affect farmers, such as addressing climate change by lowering greenhouse gas emissions. 


Agriculture, as a producer of greenhouse gas such as methane, is sure to be targeted to play a role.


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Prime minister Justin Trudeau plans to meet soon with the premiers to set a framework to combat climate change.


The Liberals promised money to promote energy innovation and clean technology as well as to support food processing, agricultural research and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.


They promised to respect science, but also, as a government owing a lot to left leaning urban voters, it would not be surprising if they considered genetically modified labels on food.


MacAulay will sit at the cabinet table when such issues are discussed. He will also be involved in decisions about issues already on the agenda.


The government will decide whether to support the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal. If it does he will have to decide whether to support the $4 billion, 15-year compensation plan to supply managed farmers proposed by the Conservatives.


The panel reviewing the Canada Transportation Act is set to file its report by the end of the year. Former astronaut Marc Garneau, the new transport minister, will lead the government’s response, but the agriculture minister is also traditionally deeply involved.


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MacAulay will also begin intensive negotiations with provincial agriculture ministers over the next business risk management package to replace Growing Forward 2.


MacAulay will have to negotiate the fine line between farm groups’ call for a more robust plan to address the realities of tighter farm margins and governments’ desire for fiscal restraint.


All these tasks will require knowledge, judgment and finesse.


People in agriculture from MacAulay’s home province say he is a down to earth guy who listens and who stands up for farmers. He has cabinet experience in former prime minister Jean Chretien’s government.


We hope he will be the farmers’ voice in cabinet rather than the government’s spokesperson to farmers.

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Bruce Dyck, Terry Fries, Barb Glen, Brian MacLeod and D’Arce McMillan collaborate in the writing of Western Producer editorials.

  • Dayton

    Why does the WP consider labeling of GMO food a left leaning urban issue? It is an issue period. As far as “Growing Forward 2.” I would hope they replace the input supplier subsidy with the net to producer guarantee it once was.

  • ed

    GMO labeling is an idea that is ultimately imperative to getting away from a secret society movement that has been building for years. Transparency and accountability in the food industry is sadly lacking. These products say they can stand on science so we should let them prove that out. The first $4 Billion of compensation should go to the Western Canadian Grain farmers for the lose of the CWB single desk which made TPP discussions possible. That would cover one year of loses. Another $4 Billion of tax payer’s money would be needed annually perpetually if the TPP is not dropped and the CWB single desk reinstated in some format, just to mitigate the on going lose and of coarse additional moneys for other sectors. Paid summerfallow would also be a good way to mitigate the burden of price depressing mountains of grain out there. It would help with the transportation issues considerably and reduce payments under Growing Forward 2 initiatives triggered by price suppressing gluts of grain and keep us out of trade disputes caused by continually being accused of subsidizing over production. Increasing taxes dramatically to corporate food giants would help mitigate the exposure of these policy changes to the average tax payer as they are the primary source and benefactors of most of the bad policies that we have incurred in the last decade or so and these additional taxes are exempt from trade challenge through the WTO dispute mechanisms. A big job requiring some degree of nerve and common sense justice , but not that complicated.