Get back to work, fix trade, ag leaders tell Liberals

The next steps for Canada’s Liberal minority government are clear as far as Canadian farm leaders are concerned.

They want trade relationships to be re-established and agriculture to be a priority.

Canadian Federation of Agriculture president Mary Robinson said it’s time to get back to work on issues that matter.

“CFA is looking forward to a government being declared and us getting down to work because this kind of caretaker mode we’ve been in it’s certainly not given us a great sense of being able to achieve much,” she said during potato harvest on her family’s Prince Edward Island farm.

Across the country, Grain Growers of Canada president Jeff Nielsen was also still harvesting.

“All four parties have said that agriculture is important to the Canadian economy and that a strong business risk management program needs to be in place to work for our producers,” he said from his combine near Olds, Alta. “What we have to think about is being positive about working with whoever forms government.”

It appeared at Western Producer press time Oct. 21 the New Democrats would have enough seats to prop up the Liberals.

The Liberals were elected or leading in 155, the Conservatives, 122, the NDP, 25, and the Greens, three.

In Quebec, the Bloc Quebecois surged through the campaign to take 32 seats, including that of their leader Yves-Francois Blanchet.

Independent candidate Jody Wilson-Raybould, a former Liberal Justice minister, was leading in her B.C. riding.

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In many ways, the result is similar to 1993, when the Reform Party held much of the west and the Bloc held Quebec.

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh and Green Party leader Elizabeth May were all re-elected. People’s Party of Canada leader Maxime Bernier was defeated.

Brian Innes, Canola Council of Canada vice-president of public affairs, worked on Parliament Hill during previous minority governments. He says a minority could work well for agriculture.

“Minority governments are more sensitive to the issues of the day,” he said. “For agriculture that could mean more attention to important files like what’s happening with China.”

But minority governments also have to be sensitive to the interests of any party that supports them in the House.

Innes observed that both the Liberals and Conservatives put forward strong agriculture platforms and addressed issues that farm organizations raised. The NDP platform “has not been as positive toward the grain sector,” he said.

From the canola perspective, Innes said resolving the trade issues with China and using more canola for biofuel are two short-term issues that a minority government could tackle.

He noted that all the parties said during the campaign that action on the environment and climate change is important and farmers and the industry should be prepared for that in future.

The Liberal agriculture platform promised improved business risk management programs, and an increase to funding those programs, easier intergenerational farm transfers and the use of more canola for biofuel.

Changes to Farm Credit Canada could be in the works too, with a capital injection of $5 billion to expand its financial and advisory services. The Liberal platform said FCC would be renamed Farm and Food Development Canada and programs scattered through other parts of government would be rolled into it.

The Liberals also promised a new Canada Water Agency, to be based in western Canada, which would perform similar services to the former Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration. It would handle soil and water issues affected by the changing climate, and link stakeholders, including farmers, on further water development such as irrigation.

Support for supply managed sectors and a pledge to work on trade issues are also promised.

But western Canada voted largely Conservative as expected and some suggested during the campaign that a Liberal win would fan the flames of western alienation, perhaps even separatism.

University of Saskatchewan political scientist Loleen Berdahl said there is a decades-old history of the west feeling left out that began when previous Liberal governments moved away from allowing regional ministers to look after their provincial interests. Power was centralized in the prime minister’s office.

“We’ll see more of that sentiment,” she said in an interview during the campaign. “We have political leaders stoking that.”

Alberta premier Jason Kenney in particular used the federal campaign to play on those emotions.

Melanee Thomas, University of Calgary political scientist, said feelings of alienation don’t tip to separatism until leaders start to speak about it, which Kenney did.

Talk of “Wexit” could be on the rise but Thomas noted that much of it is driven by disinformation on social media and doesn’t make political sense.

After Monday’s vote, the Liberals lost the Alberta seats they gained in 2015, as well as stalwart Ralph Goodale in Saskatchewan, all to Conservative candidates.

On CBC television, former Liberal leader Bob Rae said Goodale still has much to contribute to Canada and should do so in some way.

The NDP also lost the seats they had in Saskatchewan to the blue wave. In Alberta, the party held on to Edmonton Strathcona.

In Manitoba, the Liberals held on to trade minister Jim Carr’s seat and were leading in several others. The NDP held their northern seat and at least one other.

In other provinces, returning to Parliament for the Liberals are agriculture minister Marie-Claude Bibeau, former agriculture minister Lawrence MacAulay and the chair of the standing agriculture committee, Pat Finnigan.

Conservative agriculture critic Luc Berthold was re-elected, and NDP critic Alistair MacGregor was leading in his B.C. riding.

Despite the seat result, the Conservatives took 34.3 percent of the popular vote, while the Liberals took 33.2 and the NDP, 15.5.

Back in Alberta, Nielsen said GGC will take an active role in educating new members of Parliament who don’t know much about agriculture.

He said all parties recognized during the campaign that agriculture is about innovation and progress and integral to a strong economy.

“There’s some positives we can think of here no matter who is in government,” he said prior to the result.

Trade agreements that work properly and contain enforcement tools to keep barriers from popping up are also key in the future, Nielsen said.

Re-establishing trade relationships is a key point for Robinson as well.

She said that the CFA board is looking forward to sitting down with an agriculture minister and getting things done.

“We know that minority governments have been effective at delivering policy and values to Canadians,” she said. “That’s how we got our health care system, how we got our minimum wage.”

She said the campaign was a chance to create awareness among all candidates.

“We’ve been hoping to create awareness as to the potential that agriculture brings to our economy, our environment and food security, so we’ve used this time well I think in that regard and now we just want to get to work,” she said.

Aside from trade, business risk management programs and labour also need attention from the government, she said.

Innes added there is opportunity to make agriculture more internationally competitive through regulatory reform. Whether that can happen under a minority government is uncertain.

Contact karen.briere@producer.com 

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