Transport, research, water top agriculture priorities for Liberals

Saskatchewan MP Ralph Goodale recently offered a glimpse into what his party’s agriculture policy might look like if Canadian voters elect a federal Liberal government this fall.

A Liberal government would focus on a handful of key issues affecting western Canadian farmers and work on finding practical solutions, said the veteran member of Parliament from Regina.

Those key issues would include:

  • Improving grain handling and transportation.
  • Strengthening Ottawa’s role in agricultural research.
  • Expanding Ottawa’s involvement in water management.
  • Enhancing farm safety net programs.
  • Ensuring Canadian farmers have adequate to an adequate pool of farm labour.

“I think we have to pick five or six things that really matter in how farmers can be successful and then we have to focus on practical solutions to those things,” said Goodale, who served as federal agriculture minister in the early 1990s.

Ottawa needs to reconnect with western farmers and ensure that federal policies reflect the aspirations for prairie producers, he added.

“There’s been a whirlwind of change over the last number of years and the vast majority of it is probably irreversible,” he said.

“From the Liberal point of view, I think we have to work very hard to re-engage and reconnect with individual farmers and farm organizations.”

Although Goodale did not make any formal policy announcements, he said a Liberal government would make grain handling and transportation issues a top priority within the agriculture portfolio.

A Liberal government would conduct a full railway costing review and would consider the creation of a new body to oversee grain logistics.

In the area of agricultural research, he said a Liberal government would strengthen Ottawa’s role in conducting agricultural research and look for ways restore balance between “pure discovery” research and applied research.

He said discovery research has been shortchanged by the Conservative government’s current approach.

“Right across the board, the approach of the federal government has been to pull back from active federal involvement and to shift what money is available … over to applied science in partnership with the private sector,” he said.

“There is clearly an important role for applied science in partnership with the private sector … but you need the other side of it, too. You need pure scientific discovery … to feed the pipeline of new ideas for the long term.”

Goodale was also critical of the Conservatives’ decision to dismantle the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration, suggesting the agency was eliminated at a time when management of the country’s water resources has never been more important.

“We used to have the pre-eminent agency in the world dealing with water and soil issues — the PFRA — but it’s been essentially demolished,” Goodale said.

“In theory, its functions have been rolled into some part of Ag Canada, but the reality is that it’s gone altogether.”

Goodale said provincial, municipal, academic and private sector organizations are currently making important decisions on water management and security that affect the national farm economy.

“The federal government has basically taken its marbles … and gone home,” he said.

“This is an area that’s huge, and the federal government needs to be part of the solution here, in collaboration with all the others.”

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