Debate shows politicians not concerned about rural voters

No one should be surprised that Canada’s federal political leaders failed to mention agriculture in an election debate Sept. 17 meant to focus on the national economy.

After all, most rural seats, particularly in Western Canada, are already spoken for. The battlegrounds remain in urban centres: the 905 region in southern Ontario, British Columbia and possibly Quebec. Even on the Prairies, any swings are likely to happen only in urban areas.

Like it or not, Canada’s politicians feel they don’t need to appeal to rural voters. In their minds, the one in eight Canadians who are employed in Canada’s $106 billion agriculture sector have already decided who to vote for.

This isn’t a new trend. Agriculture has rarely, if ever, been a linchpin in a modern election campaign. With less than two percent of Canadians directly on the farm, the political capital simply isn’t there.

Meanwhile, concessions still haven’t been permanently made on supply management in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, although that could change if the proposed ministerial meeting goes ahead in Atlanta at the end of the month. The grain is moving, albeit thanks to this year’s drought in some parts of the Prairies, and food is still being delivered to the grocery store, despite continued concerns about the availability of farm labour, processing staff and long haul truckers.

All those issues are simmering under the political radar. None have exploded , which leaves Canada’s politicians free to focus on areas where advisers believe votes can be won or lost, such as the auto industry, Canada’s veterans and the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis.

That doesn’t make it right, but it’s a political reality in an election that’s still too close to call.

Still, this political posturing does not excuse the pitiful excuse for debate that graced Canadians’ television and computer screens Sept. 17.

It was 90 minutes of talking points, grownups shouting over each other and a moderator interjecting his own opinion into the mix, all the while appearing to run out of questions halfway through. The resulting debacle could hardly be considered a focused conversation on Canada’s current economic situation.

Barely a million Canadians watched the entire mess from start to finish.

Not only was agriculture, and rural Canada, once again completely ignored, the word “agriculture” came up only once in the entire debate, when NDP leader Tom Mulcair said Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program was in “shambles.”

And it wasn’t just agriculture. Most of the country’s economy was forgotten about.

Not once were Canada’s leaders asked about what they would do for the country’s fishing, forestry, mining, manufacturing, services or tourism industries, to name a few. Canada’s national trade agenda, to which several pertinent questions remain around the NDP’s position on the file, was ignored.

The TPP wasn’t even mentioned until prime minister Stephen Harper made his closing remarks, only to warn Canada’s auto industry they probably won’t like it.

Nor were any of the parties asked about their positions on Canada’s Employment Insurance program, despite increasing criticism from seasonal industries around the changes made to the program by the federal Conservatives.

Lots of questions were asked about the state of Canada’s energy sector as concerns continue to grow thanks to slumping oil prices. Few solutions or ideas of how to handle this volatile situation were offered by the three party leaders looking to run the country.

Part of this dysfunction can be blamed on the debate’s organizer, the Globe and Mail, whose debate format hindered any in-depth or detailed discussion on issues.

However, part of the lack of focused debate on Canada’s economic future also rests on the shoulders of Canada’s leaders.

Canadians have long prided themselves on having a diversified economy, one that has been able to weather tough economic times. It’s time Canada’s politicians did, too.

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