Ag must work hard to woo new gov’t

The federal election is over and it is now incumbent upon all parts of agriculture to work with the government given to us by the people.

There are good places to start.

The Barton Report outlined the key role that agriculture will play in the development of the Canadian economy. Based on the report this government has set a target of increasing Canada’s agri-food exports from $55 billion in 2015 to at least $75 billion by 2025.

Barton outlined how Canada can move from the fifth largest agricultural exporter to the second largest within 10 years. These are ambitious goals.

Accomplishing them will take a lot of work. We need to fight for the right trading environment. This is not going to be simple in the new age of protectionism. We need to ensure that we have regulations that foster investment in research, innovation and new technology. This may not be easy with activist opposition to many of the tools of modern agriculture like pesticides, fertilizers and biotechnology.

There is the potential for a rocky road ahead. The government has no members of Parliament from the largest grain-growing regions of the country. The House of Commons, which many saw as a House divided between rural and urban seats before the election, will be even more divided when it resumes sitting.

Who will speak for rural Canada and agriculture when the Liberal caucus meets to discuss legislation and policy? Who on the government side of the aisle will remember the Barton recommendations, and how to accomplish them?

These are not easy questions to answer. In part it is the role of members of Parliament from agriculture-based ridings to ensure that these messages are delivered to the cabinet.

I have a few options to suggest to MPs from agricultural ridings. Rural MPs might adopt a city MP from another party to take out to meet with their constituents in the field (I mean that literally). Value-chain organizations can help organize this kind of outreach and if that sounds like an offer, it is. It would also be good to see the revitalization of an all-party rural caucus.

But voices from the opposition benches are not going to be enough. We, as an industry, must work to ensure that misunderstandings about modern agriculture are not embedded in legislation and regulation.

Agriculture value chains can bring together federal and provincial governments, commodity groups and farmers to address the immediate challenges facing agriculture, including activist threats to modern agricultural tools, growing nationalism and protectionism and the need to support investment in emerging technology.

There is a lot at stake for agriculture in the next few years: a mandatory review of the Pest Control Products Act, a review of the Canada Grain Act, a new regulatory framework for new plant-breeding techniques like CRISPR and a National Food Policy.

Getting these projects right will help set the environment in which agriculture can accomplish the goals set out by Barton.

Agriculture also needs to work with government to combat growing protectionism internationally. This can only be accomplished if the government finds us willing to be a productive partner.

We need to provide the opportunities for urban MPs and cabinet ministers to get to know modern agriculture a bit better and offer positive policy options that will move this industry forward.

Cam Dahl is president of Cereals Canada.

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