The 2021 federal budget’s priorities are in step with those found in the much-lauded Barton report released a few years ago that said agriculture should be a pillar of Canada’s economic growth.
Anne McLellan, a senior adviser at Bennett Jones and a former federal cabinet minister, made the comparison between the documents during a Canadian Agricultural Policy Institute (CAPI) webinar focusing on productivity and climate change in context of the April 19 budget.
The comprehensive set of recommendations known as the Barton report were authored by Dominic Barton, Canada’s ambassador to China, and his work on a federally created advisory council created to focus on economic growth.
In 2017 Barton’s report was released, highlighting Asia-Pacific growth and how Canadian producers could take advantage through the creation of entities like Protein
Industries Canada, tasked with partnering public and private investments to accelerate innovation in the sector.
McLellan said Barton’s report is “the frame for much of this budget for the agricultural sector” because it aims to drive partnerships within Canadian food networks for “enhanced productivity” and the application of new technologies.
During the same dialogue, Sean Speer, assistant professor of public policy at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and former adviser to Stephen Harper, pointed out agriculture is the only Canadian industry with a significant fraction of the global market.
Despite that, Speers said the government fails to put agriculture in the centre of industry and needs a better strategy to spur economic growth. He said patents coming out of the sector have been flat or declining in recent years, while investments have slowed.
He said a new policy framework built around securing investments through actions like financial subsidies or regulatory policy is needed to ensure companies invest in Canada.
According to Speer, the first step is for Canadians “to recognize we’re in a competition” and institutional action is needed to win that competition.
McLellan echoed that sentiment, saying a “very thorough look at regulations around the agri-food sector” would help spur the industry.
“We have to stop making excuses for why we’re not doing these things and get out there and do them,” she said.
Both participants were encouraged to see the 2021 budget include agriculture under the Strategic Innovation Fund (SIF). Agriculture is now eligible for funding from SIF, which has been around since 2017 and helps businesses grow by helping secure investments.
In total, $2.2 billion over seven years, and $511.4 million to support ongoing projects, was dedicated to the life sciences, automotive, aerospace and agriculture sectors.