Opposition attacks over ag omission in throne speech

Canada’s agriculture industry didn’t earn a single mention in the Liberal government’s Dec. 4 throne speech, but its omission has dominated parliamentary debate ever since.

NDP leader Tom Mulcair and interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose both commented on the lack of agriculture in the Liberal plan, particularly in light of the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.

“There is a huge void when it comes to talking about the role of the private sector,” Ambrose said.

“There is no mention of the agriculture sector, the auto sector, the forestry sector, the energy sector. None of them are present in the speech from the throne.”

Conservative agriculture critic Chris Warkentin went as far as calling the speech “a betrayal for Canadian farm families.”

“Canadians were promised a government that would stand up for their interests, and instead our Canadian farmers and farm families have been left out in the cold,” Warkentin said.

Those sentiments were echoed repeatedly in the House of Commons during debate on the speech as parliamentarians stood to make their inaugural speeches in the House of Commons.

Conservative MP Alain Rayes expressed disbelief at agriculture’s omission from the speech, given the sector is facing pressing issues such as milk proteins coming across the border and undermining Canada’s dairy industry.

“On this, as on matters facing rural municipalities, the throne speech was silent. It made no mention of agriculture, even though the problem is urgent and agriculture is both a key economic sector and vital to our national food security,” Rayes said.

Alberta Conservative MP Arnold Viersen used his member statement before question period to reiterate his commitment to Canada’s agriculture sector, noting his riding “is built on the foundation of farming.”

“Over the course of the last 150 years, farmers have worked hard in my riding to feed Canadians every day,” he said, before noting the sector didn’t earn a mention in the Liberal’s throne speech.

The Conservatives said prime minister Justin Trudeau’s promise to stand up for all Canadians was not reflected in the throne speech.

To be clear, Conservative defence of Canada’s agriculture sector should come as no surprise — after all, the majority of rural seats went blue Oc. 19. Rural Canada elected them and Conservative MPs are expected to defend them.

Still, considering that agriculture has rarely dominated federal throne speeches, or parliamentary debate for that matter unless a crisis is brewing, the amount of attention its omission has generated in the House has been striking.

And it’s a trend that’s likely to continue, thanks to a number of high stakes agriculture issues that are simmering.

One of those issues is, of course, American country-of-origin labelling, a matter on which Trudeau has promised to “stand up for our farmers.”

With Canadian retaliation pending, all eyes are on the Liberals to see the matter through. Trudeau has committed to retaliation if the rule is not repealed.

“We are putting political pressure,” Trudeau told reporters Dec. 9.

“We would rather not have to engage in retaliatory measures, but we certainly will to stand up for our farmers.… We’re going to work with Americans, or against them, to make sure that it happens.”

It’s a promise Canada’s agriculture industry and political opposition will expect him to keep.

Industry on both sides of the border has been pushing the American Senate to repeal COOL before Canada can retaliate.

As of press time, the Americans had yet to repeal the rule, but efforts were underway by industry to urge U.S. legislators to insert a clause repealing COOL in the pending U.S. budget bill, which must pass by Dec. 16. Whether that clause would be inserted in the bill remained unclear.

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