Ag Day – Opportunity provided by a Rural Economic Development Minister

Opinion

As part of the recent Cabinet shuffle, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took the opportunity to expand the Cabinet table with the creation of a ministerial position focused on rural economic development. We congratulate Minister Jordan on her appointment and welcome the addition of another voice at Cabinet that can speak to, among other things, the economic significance of Canada’s agriculture sector to the Canadian economy.

Some will view the creation of this new role as nothing more than pre-election politicking – trying to shore up the Government’s fortunes in Atlantic Canada, which delivered 100 percent of the seats to the Liberals in the last election, but is somewhat softer heading into the October 2019 federal election.

A somewhat more positive view and one which I would prefer to embrace, certainly on Canada’s Agriculture Day, is based on a recognition of what rural Canada generally and the production agriculture portion of our agri-food sector specifically (which is overwhelmingly rural-based) means to our economy and our country.

The statistics are well known. Among them – Canada’s agriculture industry employs more than 2.1 million people, accounts for 6.7 percent of the country’s national gross domestic product (GDP) and is the world’s fifth largest agricultural exporter. But there is more to the story of agriculture’s and indeed rural Canada’s importance and significance to Canada’s economy and beyond.

Canada, as a country, is blessed with many attributes, including an endowment of natural resources which, in turn, and in combination with other factors, contribute to a globally recognized agricultural sector, most of which is inextricably linked with our rural communities. If these communities are to continue to be the backbone of the Canadian agriculture sector, as well as other elements of our economy and society, there are critical infrastructure needs that must be addressed and the government’s infrastructure agenda presents a significant opportunity for strategic investments in Canada’s rural economies.

The issue of rural broadband is well documented and remains at or near the top of most lists for rural infrastructure needs. It was again recently called out in the Economic Strategy Table Agri-Food Report released in September 2018. To borrow from that Report, we need to overcome a lack of reliable broadband that limits our ability to take advantage of new technologies in order to become an agri-food sector that has broadband and IT infrastructure accessible in all communities and by all businesses. The Report goes on to recommend the building of a state-of-the-art IT infrastructure (and transportation) network.

The business case for rural economic development is strong. A few years ago, our company supported the development of a report by the Economist Intelligence Unit that estimated that promoting rural development has the potential to unlock $2 trillion of annual economic output globally by 2030. Just a small portion of that would help ensure that the Canadian agri-food sector remains a key driver of the Canadian economy for years to come. The report examined methods to develop stronger rural economic growth in several countries and rural policy and infrastructure were among the keys identified to realizing the potential of rural economies.

As Minister Jordan takes up her new post, she will quickly come to appreciate that economic prosperity in and delivered by Canada’s rural communities depends significantly on the success of farmers. Canadian farmers compete in a global market. As such, it is imperative that they have support to overcome barriers to success. That support takes many forms, effective rural policy and infrastructure among them.

As we come together today, on Canada’s Agriculture Day, to celebrate all that is good about Canadian agriculture, let’s recognize that the rural communities and the people that inhabit them are the backbone not just of one of the most important economic contributors to our economy, but to the fabric of our country.

That is something worth celebrating and advocating for – happy Canada Agriculture Day!

Trevor Heck is president of Syngenta Canada Inc.

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