Liberals base ag policy on profits

SUMMERLAND, B.C. — When it comes to agricultural policy, the British Columbia Liberal party hangs its re-election hopes on exports combined with a buy-local philosophy.

For Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick, it all comes down to ensuring farming is a profitable venture.

“The government fully believes that if you want to have a strong agri-food sector, they have to be making a profit. It’s a business imperative to make a profit.

“And so exports not only help our producers and processors make a profit, it also increases their capacity to process food in British Columbia, and I believe that goes a long way to improving our financial food security.”

While agriculture issues are unlikely to become decisive factors in the May 9 election, issues such as food security, sustain-ability, the Agricultural Land Reserve and food safety are on the public radar.

The Liberals have been the governing party in B.C. since 2001, first with Gordon Campbell as leader, then with Christy Clark since 2011.

The Liberal platform promises to increase exports of agri-food and seafood products by 25 percent by 2020.

“A big part of our focus is B.C.’s food security. For me, that means driving domestic consumption as well as exports,” Letnick said.

He said 25 percent is a lofty goal, but setting challenging targets is a strong motivator.

“If you don’t achieve it, you probably will achieve way more than you would have achieved if you just gave yourself a modest goal,” he said.

“I think it’s doable. It won’t be without a lot of work, a lot of effort on the part of everyone involved rowing in the same direction and on the part of government.”

There are few specifics as to how the party plans to achieve the export targets other than through trade promotion, but Letnick outlined an example of how the government has aided export development in the past. He pointed to a B.C. exports catalogue designed for would-be buyers, which features descriptions, photos and contacts for the province’s export-ready products.

At the same time, Letnick said export promotion has to go side-by-side with a buy-local push.

The party platform promises to double the money available in the Grow Local program, which provides money to community projects that offer education or increase awareness on how to grow food and for one-on-one consultations on how to grow local food.

As well, the Liberals would increase the Buy Local program by $1 million beginning in 2019.

The party also specifies in-creased support for the hops industry, although there are no details as to how that would happen.

Letnick said if re-elected, the Liberal government would meet with the industry to see how it might allocate resources.

Another issue that might affect farmers is the Liberal decision to hold the line on the carbon tax at $30 per tonne.

Letnick said the exemption for farmers would continue, as would an 80 percent exception for greenhouse growers.

“The party believes that the rest of the country needs to catch up. That will put us in a competitive, more of a balance situation with other provinces.”

“Our agri-food is being not only sold in British Columbia and in other countries but across this country. So for me, again, it is a matter of improving our food security in our province by ensuring our farmers, our ranchers, our fishers, our processors are competitive.”

The party also has a statement in its platform about banning neonicotinoid chemicals if elected. Letnick said that would apply only after hearing the latest report from Health Canada on the matter, which is expected soon.

He said under the past Liberal government, agriculture has thrived with record sales of $13 billion in agri-food receipts in 2015 and record profits of $440 million.

He said exports of agri-food and seafood goods reached a record $3.8 billion in 2016, which is up 44 percent since 2013.

Here are other key points in the Liberal platform:

  • expanding the rural dividend program, which provides funding for economic development activities for communities smaller than 25,000
  • improving internet access to rural areas
  • cutting the small business tax to two percent
  • phasing out PST on electricity for all businesses
  • allocating $5 million to fruit tree replanting programs in the Okanagan Valley

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