Agricultural issues remain on Goodale’s radar

Former ag minister says he misses contact with rural voters under the redrawn riding that comprises only city voters

For the first time in his long political career, Ralph Goodale is not courting rural voters.

The redrawn riding boundaries for the Oct. 19 federal election put Goodale’s Regina-Wascana riding completely within city limits.

“I miss it in the sense of campaigning because I’ve always had some kind of rural campaigning in every riding I’ve had,” said the veteran Liberal MP.

“Sometimes the issues were difficult and you had to swim up-stream a little bit, but it’s always something I thoroughly enjoyed.”

And it won’t stop the former agriculture and finance minister from raising agricultural issues, particularly as they relate to the West.

He said party leader Justin Trudeau hears from him regularly on issues such as safety nets, grain transportation and the dismantling of the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration.

The latter is referenced in both the environmental and infrastructure sections of the Liberal platform, Goodale said.

He said the former PFRA Shelterbelt Centre at Indian Head, Sask., is a “mess” and a “disgrace” after being essentially abandoned.

He sees a role for a PFRA-like agency in the future: an organization that deals with basic water and soil and practical solutions for real-life prairie problems.

The droughts and floods of the past several years point to the need for proper water and soil management. Provinces, universities and landowners through watershed associations are picking up some of the slack, but Goodale said there is no overall vision.

“I think that the government of Canada needs to become a participant, not as a dictator, but someone that can bring experience, expertise, a co-ordination ability, money, to the table to help build the co-operation, the collaboration and in a very real sense the infrastructure that we need to make the Prairies more resilient in the face of widely variable drought and flood cycles,” he said in his Regina campaign office.

He said the PFRA, which was formed in 1935, is not the model for today, but there are lessons and expertise from its history that could be used.

“The spirit of PFRA needs to be rekindled,” Goodale said.

In terms of grain transportation, he said farmers are captive shippers who should expect that increasing yields will be handled by an adequate system and that railway failures will be penalized.

He also said farmers must have direct representation somewhere in that system. The Canadian Wheat Board, “love it or hate it,” at least gave farmers a voice they no longer have, he added.

“You need a system where railway performance is far more precisely defined, not in the language of the act that goes back to the 1800s, as to what constitutes suitable and adequate accommodation,” he said.

“It’s nothing more complicated than basic contract law.”

Many are waiting for the results of the Canadian Transportation Act review with high hopes, and Goodale said the CTA might have to take on the role of representing farmers’ interests.

He said farmers and organizations continue to raise safety nets with him. They are concerned about how margins are calculated and the threshold triggers.

“The federal government simply has to be prepared to sit down with producers and with provinces and have an honest look at safety nets in terms of their design and structure and in terms of their adequacy,” he said.

Some have suggested that the last few years of relatively good prices have masked the inadequacies of the program. Goodale said a thorough review would determine that.

He said safety nets and research have absorbed the biggest hits in Conservative cost cutting. The Liberals are pledging to focus more on research.

Goodale said applied science in partnership with the private sector, such as the extensive work companies have undertaken with canola, is important, but it all begins with pure science.

“There would be nothing to investigate if Keith Downey hadn’t been doing pure science, what, 45 years ago, and just happened to invent this little crop in the first place,” he said.

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