Conservative front runners are both ag supporters

A new leader of the Conservative Party of Canada is expected to be crowned in August.

For non-members of the party, it might be easy to miss. COVID-19 related news has dominated headlines for months and overshadowed the leadership race that could determine who may become Canada’s next prime minister.

The two names to watch are Peter MacKay and Erin O’Toole. Both have offered support for agriculture, and their platforms are fairly similar, but the differences are worth noting.

First, the similarities.

Both commit to eliminating the carbon tax and opening up new markets.

McKay commits to leading trade missions to “regain lost export markets” and says he will “work to ensure that the USMCA (also known as the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement, or CUSMA) does not prohibit trade growth for Canadian dairy producers.”

O’Toole, meanwhile, says he will open new markets, “for our livestock, grain and oilseed producers in our free trade negotiations.”

During the last CPC leadership race in 2017, agriculture became a focal point for candidates as a debate raged over support for supply management. While Maxime Bernier’s free market ideals and commitment to phase the system out had support from many members, he ultimately came in second.

This time around, the debate over the future of supply management appears firmly closed, with McKay joining O’Toole in vowing to protect the system. Despite Bernier gaining traction on the matter in 2017, anyone who doesn’t voice a commitment to keeping supply management is likely committing political suicide.

McKay and O’Toole commit to supporting more agricultural research. Both commit to ensuring an easier intergenerational transfer of family farms, although McKay’s commitment is more specific in how he would accomplish it.

The two are more or less the same on these big issues, but now to the differences.

MacKay is offering a lofty — and perhaps undeliverable — package of supports to producers.

“We can begin by removing the obstacles that have hampered the agri-food industry such as grain backlogs, rail strikes, illegal blockades, punitive tax policies, export limitations and regulations that are based on politics rather than science,” reads his website.

It remains unclear how any prime minister can alter bad weather, legal strikes or decisions being made in other countries… but at least his enthusiasm shows a basic understanding of the issues facing Canadian farmers.

O’Toole commits to making sure farm safety net programs are “predictable, bankable and manageable.”

Given the constant concerns over the current suite of business risk management programs, this could score O’Toole major points, although it is likely McKay is also onboard with reforms, given the grievances held by producers and the prominence the issue has had in recent years.

O’Toole offers slightly more details on a few other measures, too. He says he would amend existing laws to allow livestock owners to use local slaughterhouses, although doesn’t elaborate on this regulatory change. He also commits to implementing a food security strategy that would work with private industry to develop ways of growing more crops year-round using greenhouses and build “clusters of greenhouses.”

That program would also reassess all federal regulations concerning the labelling of food products to ensure the country of origin is clearly identified.

Producers, particularly those who are members of the CPC and can vote for the leader, should personally evaluate the platforms and information available on each candidate’s website.

D.C. Fraser is Glacier Farm Media’s Ottawa correspondent. Reach out to him by emailing dfraser@farmmedia.com.

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