Federal election must address agricultural issues

Anyone who checks out Maclean’s magazine’s policy platform tracker for the federal election campaign would be disappointed when they click on the tab for agriculture. Under every party’s name, it reads only, “No specific proposals yet.”

This despite a 2017 report by the Prime Minister’s Advisory Council on Economic Growth identifying agriculture as one of the key economic growth areas, particularly for exports.

In fact, a report released last month by the Royal Bank of Canada suggests agriculture’s contribution to the gross domestic product could hit $51 billion by 2030 (up from $32 billion), which would make it a larger sector than automobile assembly and aeronautics industries combined.

The RBC report says Canada needs to “rethink our approach to education, both for agriculture and the growing range of sectors that affect it; do more to attract young people to farming; and invest in the skills needed to attract a growing immigrant population to the sector.”

So why isn’t agriculture on the policy platform radar?

Granted, the campaign is young and other than the NDP, entire platforms have not yet been released. But with fixed election dates, all parties have known for some time that election day was coming, yet out of the starting gate, there is little to indicate where agriculture stands as a priority, or if it’s a priority.

The NDP has agricultural initiatives in its newly released platform. Its Canadian Food Strategy protects supply management and says it will “defend Canadian agricultural products like canola from unfair retaliation in overseas markets” but it doesn’t offer details. It also promises investment in high-speed broadband, to address rural mental health issues, to invest in public research, to provide low-cost start-up loans for young farmers and to “ensure that rail transportation treats farmers fairly.”

That’s a decent start, but it’s short on details. And what of the other parties?

Several agricultural groups have published their priorities.

There is universal agreement that market access issues need to be addressed. Countries are throwing up barriers, among them: China for canola, beef and pork; Italy for durum, India for pulses, Saudi Arabia for barley and Peru for phytosanitary demands. These are all non-tariff trade barriers — in other words, they exist at the fringes of the World Trade Organization’s reach.

One solution is to expand the WTO’s rules-based trade initiative. Canada is leading an effort to “restore confidence in the multilateral trading system and discourage protectionist measures and countermeasures,” which may be helpful but it will be a slow process.

Virtually every agricultural organization that has spoken out has said the federal government has to address the business risk management programs.

The Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan wants a new federally funded program to address trade disputes. The Canadian Pork Council is calling for a strategic investment initiative in the face of trade problems, as well as detailed plans on the potential for African swine fever arriving in Canada.

The National Farmers Union wants more farmer involvement in updating the Canada Grain Act, and in proposed changes to seed royalties.

Other priorities from agricultural groups include ensuring farmers are given relief from the carbon tax, and more investment and oversight in rail infrastructure.

A debate on agriculture is planned for Sept. 24, hosted by the Canadian Federation of Agriculture. We hope and expect the debate will be fruitful.

Karen Briere, Bruce Dyck, Barb Glen, Brian MacLeod and Michael Raine collaborate in the writing of Western Producer editorials.

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