Future of ag policy remains unclear ahead of election

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Ottawa – If polls and pundits are to be believed, Monday’s federal election will result in a minority government — meaning no single party would alone be dictating the immediate future of agricultural policy in Canada.

While the true results won’t be known until Monday night, most pollsters are speculating either a Conservative or Liberal-led minority government.

One scenario could see the Conservatives win the most seats, but only by a slim margin. That opens the door for Liberal leader Justin Trudeau to court the support of others — likely the New Democrats or Green Party — to stay on as prime minister.

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Similarly, Scheer could seek support from other parties to prop up his government, a situation that may be less plausible given the NDP’s stated reluctance to help Conservatives.

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has outlined conditions of his support to the Liberals, focusing on items such as climate change and a national pharmacare plan.

Vancouver Island MP Alistair MacGregor, now in a dogfight to keep his Cowichan-Malahat-Langford seat, served as the NDP’s agriculture critic in the last Parliament. Days before the election, he outlined what role the NDP would play in supporting agriculture as part of a coalition government.

“In a minority situation, if we were able to have some influence over government policy as a condition of our support, I would certainly like to see that, starting off with supply management that we actually honour the promises that we make,” he said, referring to concessions made in trade deals involving the European Union, the U.S., Mexico and Pacific nations.

The NDP would also push to compensate industries impacted by those deals, similar to the $1.75 billion over eight years dished out to Canada’s dairy farmers this August.

The last Liberal budget also promised $3.9 billion to dairy, egg and poultry farmers to support producers who lost farm income because of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with the EU and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).

MacGregor said honouring supply management would be an “absolute condition” for NDP support of a Liberal government.

He also said the NDP would push the Liberals to effectively deal with climate change and reconsider business risk management programs.

“We have to do a full-scale review, of the whole suite of programs, to make sure they are flexible,” he said, noting uncertain global markets and climate change-associated risks may create a need for more dynamic support options. “Farmers may start having to need those programs more often.”

The NDP has stated it has no plans to prop up a Conservative-led minority government, and it is less clear what such a scenario would entail for Canadian farmers — but a Conservative government would mean there are new players with significant sway over the industry.

The Conservative Party did not respond to interview requests for this story, but did commit in its platform, released late in the campaign, to revamp the Canada Grain Act, address labour issues and improve available risk management programs. Like the NDP, the Conservatives support compensation to farmers affected by free trade deals.

Agriculture tends to be one of the less partisan issues, with many of the parties sharing priorities.

“(Every party has) representation in rural ridings and we’re there to work for all of them,” MacGregor said, pointing to the relatively co-operative nature of the Commons’ agriculture committee.

But that committee, known formally as the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, will have significant changes to it after Monday; at least four of its 11 incumbent MPs are at risk of losing their re-election bids.

Liberal MP Marie-Claude Bibeau, the minister of agriculture in Trudeau’s government, is also at risk of losing her seat in Quebec’s Compton-Stanstead riding.

Despite the election, it is also realistic to expect a time lag between the results and a clear direction of agriculture policy in Canada being formed.

No matter which faces — old or new — are shaping that policy, their work likely won’t begin for several weeks, if not months, after the election, because Parliament is not expected to reconvene immediately.

— D.C. Fraser reports for Glacier FarmMedia from Ottawa.

About the author

Reporter

D.C. Fraser is Glacier FarmMedia’s Ottawa-based reporter. Growing up mostly in Alberta, Fraser also lived in Saskatchewan for ten years where he covered politics, including a stint teaching at the University of Regina’s School of Journalism. He is an avid fan of the outdoors and a pretty good beer league hockey player. His passion for agriculture and agri-food policy comes naturally: Six consecutive generations of his family have worked in the industry.

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