Will budget see promises kept on ag investment, farm taxes?

It’s budget season in Ottawa — a time when office pools guessing the date of the Big Day are in full swing and folks are drafting up their potential Budget 2017 wish lists. 


Finance Minister Bill Morneau hasn’t said when the budget will be unveiled, although a glance at the parliamentary calendar would suggest March 21 is the most likely day. (Its odds increased after Liberal MP and transport Committee chair Judy Sgro let it slip during a February committee meeting that it was her understanding the budget would fall on that day.) 


Morneau’s office has refused to confirm whether Sgro is correct. The budget date had not yet been released as of press time March 6.


Federal budgets typically happen on a Tuesday before the end of the fiscal year. (It’s worth stressing that rule isn’t fast and firm. There have been budgets in April, despite the fact they don’t always mesh with the parliamentary budget cycle.) 


Federal budgets normally don’t hold much excitement for the Canadian agriculture sector. More often than not the agriculture stories that follow a budget focus on what wasn’t in the budget for the sector.


To be fair, this is largely because agriculture is a joint federal-provincial file. Most of the sector’s fiscal needs around research, crop insurance programs, disaster relief and innovation are secured via five-year funding agreements. 


Still, there are likely a few files worth keeping an eye on as Ottawa heads into budget season. 


During the 2015 election, the Liberals promised to invest $160 million over four years into an Agri-Food Value Added Investment Fund. The fund would have provided “technical and marketing assistance to help food processors develop new value-added products that reflect changing tastes and market opportunities.”


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That promise was reiterated in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s mandate letter to Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay — albeit without a dollar amount. 


The 2017 budget comes as Morneau’s economic advisory committee picked Canada’s agri-food industry as a key growth industry for Canada’s economy going forward. Growth potential in the sector, council members have said, is tremendous. 


Tapping that growth potential will require significant investment in areas such as infrastructure, skills training, marketing, research and innovation — key areas that are the backbone of most federal budgets.


MacAulay has repeatedly said the 21st century could be Canadian agriculture’s moment to shine. Whether Morneau agrees remains to be seen. 


Budget 2016 also put a freeze on fundamental research funding for the sector pending the outcome of a full review by Science Minister Kirsty Duncan on how that money is allocated. 


The review’s findings haven’t been released yet. More than 1,250 submissions were put forward to the review panel during its investigation.


The Liberals promised to invest $100 million over four years for agriculture research during the 2015 campaign. 


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On the tax side, Canada’s farm sector has been hoping Ottawa will fix several technical tax issues that are making it difficult to transfer their operations within the family. 


Thus far the finance department has refused to make those changes. 


On the supply management side, the federal agriculture minister said in November that Canada’s Duties Relief Program would be reviewed. 


The program allows companies to import goods to Canada without paying duties provided those goods are exported back out of the country later on. 


It was designed to make life easier for industries such as Canada’s steel and manufacturing sectors, which are heavily integrated and routinely ship product back and forth across the border. 


Canada’s dairy and poultry industries argue the program is being used to circumvent tariffs put in place to protect the country’s supply management system.


The outcome of that promised review has not yet been made public.

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Kelsey Johnson is a reporter with iPolitics, www.ipolitics.ca.