OTTAWA — Federal agriculture minister Gerry Ritz maintains that if the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal is signed this week supply managed sectors will be protected.
“Not from this government,” he responded during a scrum with reporters after the national agriculture debate Sept. 30 when asked if there was a risk to the sector as negotiations proceed in Atlanta.
“They know we have their back.”
The possibility of a deal drew farmers, tractors and dairy cows to Ottawa Sept. 29 to protest. A group also marched in front of the Chateau Laurier a day later while the debate including representatives from five parties occurred inside.
The Conservative government has said that if compensation is required, such as that promised through the agreement with Europe, it would be forthcoming.
“If there’s a loss on your farm, (or) on the processing side, you will be compensated,” Ritz said during the debate.
But he wouldn’t say whether that would include both lost income and lost quota value.
“We’ll have to wait and see what the final numbers are to see what’s going to be required,” he said.
NDP agriculture critic and candidate in Niagara Centre, Malcolm Allen, said supply management would remain “whole” under a Tom Mulcair government.
He criticized the Conservatives for putting the sector on the TPP table in the first place.
A former autoworker negotiator, Allen said neither side ever puts everything on the table at the start.
“Don’t put it on the table if you don’t want to lose it,” he said during the debate.
He also said the government should keep the opposition leaders at least in the loop on the talks. He said Mulcair has not been given any information about the TPP.
“I don’t disagree that negotiations have to be secretive at some levels, but not at the high level,” Allen said.
Liberal leader Justin Trudeau has said he would wait and see what the details are before taking a position, but agriculture critic Mark Eyking is a strong supporter of supply management.
Ritz repeated the Conservative message that negotiations will not take place in the media. Asked if he should be in Atlanta to add more weight to the discussions he quipped he is only 180 pounds.
The debate was based on seven pre-taped questions from farmers across Canada and included trade, business risk management, environment, research, farm labour, the next generation of farm operators and social license.
Ron Bonnett, president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, which sponsored the debate, said he would have liked to hear more specifics from each party.