Review of campaign promises shows progress, but few results

It’s been nearly two years since the October 2015 election where Canadian voters gave Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberals a majority government.


It was a campaign full of promises. Several touched on agriculture. 


So, how many of those promises have they been able fulfill since taking office?


An easy way to figure it out is to look back at Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay’s mandate letter from Trudeau that lists his top priorities for the agriculture file. 


Let’s start with innovation.


During the 2015 election campaign, the Liberals promised to create a $160 million value added investment fund specifically for agriculture – a commitment reiterated (minus the dollar amount) in MacAulay’s letter. 


Have they delivered? The short answer: kind of. 


No specific fund for the country’s food processing sector has been developed. However, agriculture has been granted special access to Ottawa’s promised $1.2 billion Strategic Investment Fund announced in Budget 2017. 


The federal government is merging several investment funds that are already in existence as well as adding $200 million in new money to the pot over the next three years.


However, while Canada’s agriculture sector has been told they will be able to apply for that money there is no specific fund that is totally designated for food processing. 


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Government insiders insist the farm and food sectors will be able to access the money given the industry has been flagged as priority economic growth area. 


Meanwhile, the recently agreed upon five-year Canadian Agriculture Partnership has listed value-added processing as one of its six priority areas. 


With provincial and territorial bilateral agreements still being sorted out, it’s unclear what that will look like for Canada’s processing industry going forward.


Then there’s agriculture research. The party promised $100 million over four years in agriculture research. That promise has largely been kept.


Research has been pegged as a key area in the Canadian Agriculture Partnership although the division of funding is still be sorted out. 


Ottawa has also invested some $30 million in genomics research under Budget 2016 – with another $70 million promised in Budget 2017 for discovery science aimed at tackling climate change and soil and water concerns. 


Details about how that money will be dispersed are still being sorted out. 


In addition, the federal government has committed $80 million to redevelop the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s centre for plant health in British Columbia. The hope there is to develop a research station that is world class.


Ottawa has also started working on its promised national food strategy – another key campaign promise repeated in MacAulay’s mandate letter. 


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The letter also talks about grain transportation, which has been a longstanding problem for Prairie farmers.


The House of Commons Transport Committee will reconvene in early September to get working on its review of Ottawa’s proposed transportation legislation before Parliament comes back from its summer recess. 


The feds have said they hope to have the legislation in place this fall, despite harvest already underway in parts of the Prairies. Whether they can stick to that timeline remains to be seen.


There is one campaign promise that remains outstanding: the Liberals have yet to develop a payment protection and recovery program for produce growers when buyers fail to pay.


Canadian produce growers lost their preferential status under the American Perishable Agriculture Commodities Act in 2014 after U.S. growers demanded an equivalent system North of the border. PACA is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and allows producers to start recovering outstanding accounts for a $100 fee.


During the 2015 election campaign then Liberal Agriculture Critic Mark Eyking promised his party would fix the issue if they were elected to office. Eyking is a former produce farmer. However, that promise was not repeated in MacAulay’s mandate letter.


Still, almost two years later, no proposed solution has been put forward by the Liberals, despite pressure from Liberal chair of the House agriculture committee, the opposition parties and industry stakeholders. 


Canadian fruit and vegetable growers have been trying to convince the federal government to fix the PACA issue since 1985.

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