Producers release their key issues for election

Political parties running in the federal election will be asked for their solutions to the growing loss of market access

Farmers want the federal election campaign to focus on solutions to their market access challenges.

From canola, soybeans and meat in China to durum in Italy, pulses in India and other products in other countries, farmers say these issues must take priority.

“They know the problems, or they darn well better know the problems we’re facing,” said Grain Growers of Canada president Jeff Nielsen. “What is their intent?”

In the first few days of the campaign, launched Sept. 11, none of the major parties said anything about the issues facing farmers and agriculture as a whole.

Agriculture traditionally doesn’t rate high on the federal campaign priority list but Nielsen said with one in eight Canadian jobs in the sector, and the trade disputes affecting people from coast to coast, it deserves a higher profile.

Agriculture contributes about seven percent to the country’s gross domestic product.

“We really want to nail down … how are they going to address this? Politicians are so good at deflecting, well so and so did such a bad job we’ll make sure we’ll be better. No, we don’t want that answer. We want them to tell us some solid ideas.”

Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan president Todd Lewis said political parties like to highlight agriculture’s potential so they should do something for the industry.

“APAS believes strongly that if Canadian decision-makers want to benefit from agriculture on the campaign trail they need to put their money where their mouth is and make commitments to provide a fair share to protect us when times get more challenging,” he said.

Lewis said trade disputes rooted in politics are costing farmers a lot of money and APAS wants a commitment to a trade injury support program. It would be a federally funded program to provide support for the duration of a trade dispute, or until business risk management programs are improved to provide enough coverage for trade disputes.

“We’re going to need a program of some sort,” he said.

At the Canadian Pork Council, director of government and corporate affairs Gary Stordy said pork producers want improved BRM programs but they also want a $265-million strategic investment program to address access issues to China and the impact of the China-United States trade war.

The pork business is highly integrated and Canadian producers are directly affected by Chinese tariffs on pork that have suppressed global prices.

He said Canada needs competitive access to markets particularly in Asia and the council will be working through the campaign to inform all parties about their expectations.

Effective BRM programs will be necessary going forward, he added.

“The changes have made this program (AgriStability) little more than an extreme disaster program,” Stordy said.

Nearly half of BRM funding goes toward crop insurance, which pork producers can’t access, and payment caps don’t reflect the scale of hog farms.

Lewis added that on the grain side, AgriStability wouldn’t provide coverage even if canola prices fell to $7.16 per bushel.

“That would be well below break-even,” he said. “How much of a business risk management program is it?”

No matter who forms the next government, Lewis said farmers and organizations are going to have to be much tougher in their request for proper programs and better funding. There hasn’t been new money put into agriculture for some time, he said.

Meanwhile, the NDP says it would “defend Canadian agricultural products like canola from unfair retaliation in overseas markets.”

It becomes the first of the three major parties to reveal a full platform ahead of the Oct. 21 vote.

It promises full protection for supply management and reciprocity in trade negotiations, as well as full compensation for any trade losses in these sectors.

The NDP would also implement a whole-of-government approach in a Canadian Food Strategy if it forms government.

The strategy would “address regional needs and priorities by investing in our agricultural communities, supporting young and new farmers, and taking steps to ensure that rural livelihoods are good and sustainable.”

High-speed broadband and cellphone infrastructure, low-cost start-up loans for new farmers and succession support are also promised.

Farmers would be part of a national mental health strategy developed with provinces.

The NDP also promises investment in public research and data collection and fair treatment from railways.

The party says it would work with producers in the supply chain to increase the amount of Canadian food sold, processed and consumed locally and regionally.

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