NDP agriculture critic runs again on Vancouver Island

Alistair MacGregor and his family have a small farm near Victoria on which they produce pigs, chickens, fruit, nuts and berries. | Supplied photo

Alistair MacGregor has been a tree planter, a constituency assistant and, since 2015, a New Democratic Party MP.

Now running for the third time, he says his work on agricultural issues has been a highlight. He said he was “overjoyed” to be named the NDP agriculture critic in 2018 and sit on the House agriculture committee.

“I finally had an opportunity to be a part of something I love,” he said in an interview.

MacGregor and his family have a small farm in the Cowichan-Malahat-Langford riding on Vancouver Island, and he said he has always had a passion for agriculture and food security issues.

They had sheep but now raise mainly pigs and chickens, fruit, nuts and berries that they sell in local markets and for their own food.

On the committee, MacGregor has become known for thoughtful questions no matter which topic the members are studying. As the only NDP member on the committee, he has limited time to address a topic.

“As the lone New Democrat there is a bit more pressure,” he said.

“I don’t have another to lean on.”

The NDP lost seats in the 2019 election and hopes to gain ground Sept. 20. Of the party’s 24 seats, 11 were in British Columbia, one in Alberta and three in Manitoba.

In his riding, MacGregor took 36 percent of the vote last time, 10 points ahead of Alana DeLong of the Conservatives. She is running again, and the other challengers are Lia Versaevel for the Green Party, Blair Herbert for the Liberals and Mark Hecht of the People’s Party.

MacGregor said the scorching temperatures and fires this summer have become an election issue because climate change preparedness and resiliency are on peoples’ minds.

His riding has a rich agricultural history given its Mediterranean climate, he said, but this summer was “completely bonkers.”

“Climate change is coming up more and more,” he said.

“Increasingly farmers are telling me they are on the front lines. How do we build more resiliency in our system?”

MacGregor said the same question can be asked of agricultural business risk management programs.

It was his motion, supported by his colleagues, that led the agriculture committee to study the BRM suite, especially AgriStability.

The study was nearly complete when Parliament prorogued in 2020 and it was a scramble to get back at it the following sitting, he said. However, he said that study was a great representation of the collaborative, constructive work the committee does and as a result some improvements were made.

MacGregor said there is a lot of risk to manage this year with the weather challenges that farmers across the country have faced.

In B.C. the magnitude of lost livestock won’t be known until later this fall, but strong support programs are required, he added.

Last April, MacGregor introduced Bill C-290, a private member’s bill that would enact a national soil conservation strategy. He believes that would be a good way to address concerns about carbon pricing and use farmers’ knowledge of the best soil management practices. It also fits with the party’s promise to promote sustainable land-management methods that reduce emissions.

MacGregor said it ties in with the commitment to address food waste, establish a national food strategy that includes labels and traceability and establish a national school nutrition program.

All this points to a stronger role for farmers in the Canadian economy, he said.

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