MacAulay’s low profile worriesome for ambitious ag goals

Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay isn’t a familiar face for many Canadians despite being one of this country’s longest serving members of Parliament.

A new poll released by the Angus Reid Institute Nov. 20 found only 39 percent of Canadians surveyed knew who MacAulay was.

Of that, 25 percent thought he was doing a “good job” while 19 percent felt he was doing a “bad job.”

Another 56 percent said they felt he’d done “a mix of good and bad” or were unsure about his performance.

The institute conducted an online survey of 2,425 Canadians from Nov. 8-14. The poll carries a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percent, 19 times out of 20.

The poll’s findings aren’t all that surprising.

Despite being one of the oldest ministries in Canada, agriculture ministers traditionally fly under the public radar. They’re rarely interviewed by mainstream media unless there’s a crisis like a major food safety outbreak or something similar.

Agriculture simply isn’t seen as one of the glamorous cabinet positions (think finance, health, defence, foreign affairs and public safety), even though the sector contributes more than $100 billion to the Canadian economy annually.

It’s a mindset that will need to change if Ottawa is serious about leaning on the agriculture industry for future economic growth.

The Trudeau government challenged the Canadian agriculture industry in this year’s budget to expand its exports to $75 billion by 2025. It was a significant request (exports currently hover around $50 billion), one that will likely become ever more challenging if the ongoing North American Free Trade Agreement renegotiations go sideways.

Ottawa has promised to help farmers and processors expand their businesses in order to meet that challenge.

However, fulfilling that promise requires the backing of everyday Canadians — a pledge that comes at a time when Canadian consumers continue to question where their food comes from.

Securing future public trust is critical, a task the agriculture industry itself can’t do alone.

That’s where federal and provincial agriculture ministers come in.

The agriculture industry needs a visible champion within the federal government if Ottawa is serious about the agriculture and agri-food sectors being future economic leaders.

It needs an agriculture minister who can bridge the gap between city folk and rural folks, who understands the concerns of both sides and can deftly navigate the file’s complexities.

Based on the Angus Reid poll, there’s more work to be done.

To be clear, there’s no question MacAulay takes great pride in his role of being Canada’s agriculture minister. A retired farmer himself, he’s a regular at agriculture events around town and appears to enjoy socializing with producers at various events in Ottawa.

He’s also relatively accessible to the agriculture media when required.

Still, if Ottawa’s plan to grow the agriculture sector has any chance of succeeding, MacAulay needs to become better known outside of the farming world and P.E.I.

And, while the agriculture minister must be the industry’s champion, achieving the Trudeau government’s export goal is a whole-of-government mission.

Agriculture is about more than cows, chickens, pigs and fields. It’s a cross-sectoral file that touches almost every government file — whether the public, or even politicians themselves, realize.

Health, trade, transport, public safety, finance and environment are only some of the files where their respective ministers should be publicly collaborating with their fellow agriculture minister.

There will always be areas where sides will disagree. There are also ample opportunities to work together.

The future of the sector, and Ottawa’s plan to lean on farmers and processors for increased economic success, depends on it.

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