It was a very Canadian agricultural debate

Other than a couple of political shots at the Liberal agriculture minister, taken by Ontario Conservative agricultural critic Dave Epp, there wasn’t a lot of to-and-fro at the Canadian Federation of Agriculture-sponsored debate. | Screencap via YouTube/Canadian Federation of Agriculture

Canada’s political agricultural leaders seem to get along very well, at least during public outings. Last week’s agricultural debate, held online, was no exception. They got along so well that it was hard to tell them apart.

Other than a couple of political shots at the Liberal agriculture minister, taken by Ontario Conservative agricultural critic Dave Epp, there wasn’t a lot of to-and-fro at the Canadian Federation of Agriculture-sponsored debate. The four participants agreed on most of the topics and questions posed by moderators.

If farmers were looking to have their vote swayed one way or another by this debate, they likely didn’t find anything persuasive. Website user statistics indicate about 1,800 folks have watched or connected with the online piece, including those who saw it live on Sept. 9.

All debaters were well informed and the quality of the discussion was high. Except for Liberal Marie-Claude Bibeau, the rest are on the parliamentary agriculture committee: Epp, Alistair MacGregor of the NDP and Yves Perron of the Bloc Quebecois. All know their way around farm issues.

Some western farmers who watched the event said they enjoyed Perron’s positions and his suggestions that business risk management programs should be expanded and made more financially competitive with American programs.

Representatives from all participating parties said BRM programs need the overhaul that is underway, though they differed slightly about what is needed. Bibeau pointed to the recent $95 million injection into those tools and $400 million in commitments to improve funding for AgriRecovery, to be provided if prairie provinces play ball. She said the Conservatives cut hundreds of millions from those programs when they were in power.

Epp, from southwestern Ontario, said the Conservatives would reduce red tape for producers and industry and get greater direction from the agriculture industry about improvements to BRMs. He didn’t provide any details and that is where the devil typically resides.

He suggested the same thing would apply when it comes to research. Conservatives would cut regulations for genetics companies and create more partnerships with industrial players in agriculture.

Bibeau said the Liberal government has invested to replace the $400 million in cuts to research made by the Harper administration. That included reopening research facilities, adding 70 more scientists and establishing the Protein Super Cluster and its partnerships.

MacGregor said the NDP would put more scientists back on the ground and provide long-term, predictable funding for agriculture. Perron took a shot at Health Canada and its PMRA, with cancellations of pesticide registrations without approving or helping to develop replacement tools for farmers.

Every party wants more investment in roads, bridges, rural internet and cellular connectivity. Perron and Bibeau agreed that a recent federal-provincial effort and investment in internet expansion of coverage and bandwidth has shown positive signs.

The debaters all favoured changes to the taxation regulations for intergenerational transfer of farmland, put forward during this session in Bill 208, which has now become law.

The Liberals want further changes to the legislation, but even on something the four debaters disagreed about, they actually agreed.

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture deserves praise for organizing this debate, which offered these candidates an opportunity to discuss issues and potentially differentiate their party platforms from others.

In the end, it was a very Canadian, very agricultural type of gathering — polite and agreeable.

Karen Briere, Bruce Dyck, Barb Glen and Mike Raine collaborate in the writing of Western Producer editorials.

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