Farmers’ needs and challenges dominated the hearings of the House of Commons finance committee when it visited Winnipeg to hear from Manitoba residents.
From carbon taxes to labour force programs to the fate of the port of Churchill, farming and agriculture were presented to Liberal, Conservative and NDP members as core to the Manitoba economy.
“The (Trans-Pacific Partnership) would provide increased access for Manitoba exports of agricultural and value-added products as well as manufactured goods,” said Don Leitch, president of the Business Council of Manitoba, stating a pro-trade-deals view that was shared by other business and agriculture representatives who spoke at the hearings.
“We’re not at the table and not being talked to about how this is going to affect us,” said Keystone Agricultural Producers president Dan Mazier about carbon taxes.
“Our members are very concerned about the implications of what this might mean to their bottom line.”
Brian Innes of the Canola Council of Canada repeatedly noted how canola is a golden example of Canadian inventiveness and the industry needs to see continued support for innovation in federal policy.
“Canola was born from innovation,” said Innes.
The committee is touring Canada to gather views about what Canadians hope to see in the 2017 federal budget. It is chaired by former farm leader Wayne Easter, a federal Liberal MP from Prince Edward Island.
The fate of the port of Churchill was just one of a broad range of farm-related issues.
Calgary Conservative Ron Liepart asked about the “piling-on” of taxes and regulations upon farmers and business. His Edmonton Conservative colleague Ziad Aboultaif had a similar concern, noting the recently announced carbon charges plus increases to the Canada Pension Plan and Employment Insurance.
“It is a great concern,” said Mazier about the vulnerability of farmers to increasing costs of fuel and fertilizer.
“Somehow we have to get off this carbon reliance.”
Mazier urged the federal politicians to support increased subsidies or other financial aids for farmers embracing “clean tech” methods that reduce carbon emissions.
“Many new technologies are expensive and without government support they are viewed as too costly to invest in,” said Mazier.
He also said that farmers do much to “trap” carbon and that should be recognized.
“They already make investments that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve water quality and reduce the use of inputs, such as fertilizer and pesticides,” said Mazier.
Innes said innovations in farming and agricultural systems have radically reduced the per-tonne carbon emissions from canola production, something that shows the value of continued agricultural innovation funding.
Business-related groups stressed the importance of making and approving trade deals such as the Canada-European Union agreement and the TPP, while speeding up work on reducing province-to-province barriers.
Leitch said an important way to boost trade and embrace innovation would be to rebuild Canada-U.S. border crossings such as Emerson, Man., through which most of Manitoba’s American-bound exports travel.
“That is the biggest single largest border impediment to enhanced Canada-U.S. trade in Western Canada,” said Leitch.
Mazier said KAP wants the federal government to add flexibility to taxes and other provisions that apply to in-family farm transfers. It also wants the government to support better internet and mobile access in farming areas because those are critical to business today.
Innes said the canola council wants to see the government “keep funding research, market development and market access in a way that has worked so well in the current (agricultural policy) framework.”