Supply management, TPP deal possible election issues

The Ottawa federal election rumour mill is in full swing.

At the time of writing, the expectation was the 42nd federal election could be called as early as Aug. 2, launching the longest election period in modern Canadian history.

Staffers have been told to prepare for the campaign trail. Public funding announcements have been moved up. Newsrooms are finalizing coverage plans, while pundits and journalists spend time predicting what the major election issues could be.

One of those issues is likely to be agriculture: supply management to be specific. With the latest Trans-Pacific Partnership meetings set to wrap up in Hawaii July 31, the latest reports say dairy is currently a linchpin at the negotiation table.

At the time of writing, it remained unclear whether an agreement in principle would be reached in Hawaii before the TPP meetings wrapped up. Inside Trade reported that some close to the negotiations were saying a final deal was unlikely and that ministers expected to commit to continued talks.

The timing of the ramped up TPP negotiations and the writ drop is a sticky situation for politicians.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair has indicated he wants to make supply management a wedge issue in the upcoming election. He’s already written a letter to the prime minister insisting Stephen Harper up-hold the system, which he recently reiterated during a day long farm tour in Ontario.

Supply management and the TPP are already coming up as an issue in eastern Ontario and Quebec, where political gains could be made.

Maxime Bernier, the minister of state for agriculture, was recently greeted at his campaign office by more than 1,000 dairy farmers demanding supply management be protected at the TPP table. Bernier’s riding of Beauce has a high concentration of dairy farmers.

The future of Canada’s dairy, egg and poultry sectors has also been raised in former parliamentary secretary Pierre Lemieux’s riding, where Lemieux is looking to be re-elected for his fourth term.

The Conservatives are expected to hit back with questions about the NDP’s position on trade.

Canada’s dairy, egg and poultry industries may be wary about the TPP’s effects on their industries, but export-based agriculture sectors argue the pending trade deal is integral to their sectors.

The NDP has not said whether it is supporting the Canada-European Trade deal, arguing it will make its decision about the deal when it sees the full text of the agreement. Nor has the NDP said what it would do with the TPP if it was elected as government.

Supply management isn’t the only agriculture issue expected to be raised during the election.

Concerns about Canada’s manufacturing system continue, despite a slumping dollar. Canada’s largest manufacturing sector is food processing, where several closures have been reported in recent months.

Much of the political rhetoric will likely focus on the auto sector, but concerns around value-added processing are already being discussed. Agriculture minister Gerry Ritz raised the state of Canada’s food processing sector at the recent annual federal-provincial-territorial agriculture ministers’ meeting in Charlottetown.

Meanwhile, in an interview with iPolitics, Ontario agriculture minister Jeff Leal said the prime minister needs to start paying attention to the sector and acknowledge its importance to the Canadian economy.

The vitality of the food processing sector depends partly on the industry’s ability to secure workers. The shortage of workers in Canadian agriculture is reaching crisis levels, the industry has said.

Conversations about the labour shortage will continue in rural ridings across the country. Canadian farm groups are pushing for a special agriculture worker stream that is separate from current labour and immigration routes. Talks with the federal government about the plan were ongoing, but are likely to be put on hold because of the federal election.

Farm groups have also said they plan to raise rural internet access, risk management, research funding and transportation during the election.

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