Agriculture has reason to watch pending federal budget

The Liberals’ 2018 budget will drop Feb. 27.

In what had become one of Ottawa’s worst kept secrets, Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s latest fiscal plan comes as the Trudeau government continues to try and change its political narrative.

For one thing, the pending budget certainly gives Morneau a chance to regain Canadians’ confidence after a tough year.

While the visible public anger against him appears to have simmered down, it’s safe to say Morneau would like to stay out of the political hot seat.

The timing of this year’s budget is also interesting.

Politically, it will drop just days before the House of Commons rises for its two-week-long March break, giving the Trudeau government a chance to take its budget on the road.

Budget 2018 also comes in the middle of the seventh round of North American Free Trade Agreement renegotiations in Mexico City, which begin Feb. 25.

Market uncertainty has increasingly become a reality as the NAFTA talks — and questions about the pact’s future — drag on.

For now, the Canadian economy continues to plod on, despite rumblings about slowing investment thanks to the continuing uncertainty within North American markets.

It’s a reality the Liberal government cannot ignore, particularly if the discussions drag on.

Mid-term budgets are traditionally subject to less fanfare than their pre-election counterparts, which often serve as a party’s election platform. As such, few expect the upcoming budget to include grandiose announcements.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t at least a few files worth watching.

The federal government has yet to respond to the tax changes made south of the border.

While it remains unclear whether those responses will be included in the Feb. 27 document, the Liberal government must ensure that Canadian companies — and their goods — remain competitive.

Ottawa must also continue to respond to growing protectionist sentiments globally — an area of particular concern for Canadian farmers, many of whom depend heavily on trade.

Budget 2017 challenged Canada’s agriculture industry to expand its exports to $75 billion by 2025. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s economic advisory council has repeatedly touted the industry as an area where notable economic gains can be made at a somewhat rapid pace.

Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay has said that target remains attainable despite the shifting global trading environment. The Liberal government has also promised to diversify this country’s trading markets.

MacAulay recently announced new details about promised federal funding included under the Canadian Agricultural Partnership. The five-year funding framework will take effect April 1 with bilateral agreements expected to be signed in the next few months.

The minister has said the framework will help the sector reach its new export target. MacAulay refused to say whether the upcoming budget will focus on the agriculture sector.

Liberal sources have said the upcoming budget is expected to focus on science — an area MacAulay has repeatedly championed on behalf of the agriculture industry. The sector, he has said, must be on the “cutting edge” if it is to succeed.

The budget also comes on the heels of Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains’ supercluster funding announcement in February. One of the five finalists includes a plant protein supercluster project based in Western Canada.

Closer to home, possible areas of interest include health care, affordable housing and infrastructure spending as communities and municipalities look for more details around how the money will flow.

The Liberals have also said their pending fiscal plan — like their previous fiscal guides — will focus on gender.

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