Editorial: Canada’s election forgoes agricultural issues

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There hasn’t been much to get excited about in the current federal election, especially if you’re interested in agriculture policy.

Political parties have concentrated on their opponents more than on selling themselves. Agriculture has received little time in the greater discussion.

In fact, as I write this, we still don’t even know the Conservative platform, which they were holding to release until closer to election day.

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A perusal of the Conservative website yields very little information beyond the daily gotcha revelation about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The other parties aren’t much better, although, at least they have platforms available to discuss.

The lack of focus on agriculture isn’t surprising. There’s a significant voting split in Canada, with rural ridings mostly voting Conservative and urban ridings mostly voting Liberal or NDP. That means those ridings, which are the base for those parties, aren’t the battlegrounds where the election will be won. Hence, they don’t get much time.

It’s the same reason that Alberta’s barely seen a federal party leader this election — no one other than the Conservatives have much prospect there.

A Financial Post columnist recently wrote that politics has become about what the government can do for the individual.

That takes away from large thinking on topics and policy that has broad benefit across the population. It’s what spawns things like boutique tax cuts for demographics that might vote for you. That’s a Stephen Harper innovation that Conservative leader Andrew Scheer seems to be following bringing back tax credits for children’s activities. As a parent of children still in school, those tax credits are valuable. As someone who believes in taxation efficiency, those sorts of tax credits create more work for accountants and jobs for bureaucrats. Camping vouchers from the Liberals? Same thing.

A government’s job is sound, broad-based policy not trinkets.

There’s been a similar lack of large thinking in agriculture policy. The Liberals, who governed by pushing innovation and economic development, especially in agriculture, barely mention the big picture direction in food and farming. They do have one idea, not yet fleshed out, that would expand the mandate of Farm Credit Canada to form a new Farm and Food Development Canada agency.

The NDP says it will increase payment protection for produce growers, invest in research, create a food strategy and create low-cost loans for young people in agriculture.

The Green Party, on the other hand, seems to have been completely taken over by urban activists. I had a discussion with Green Party candidate Kate Storey, a farmer from Manitoba, who was much more nuanced in her understanding of the issues when we were talking compared to her performance in the agriculture debate which resulted in significant accusations that the Greens had no understanding of agriculture. Storey admitted that, as agriculture critic, what she had sent into the urban office wasn’t what ended up in the policy.

Lines like no-till farming has to end because it uses pesticides, when it is by far the largest reason that Prairie agriculture is considered a net carbon sink, and the broad brushing of the Temporary Foreign Workers Program as slavery didn’t endear the Greens to anyone in agriculture.

Lines from the Green policy book like: “Factory farms crowd chickens, turkeys, cows and pigs into inhumane and unhygienic conditions, causing extreme water and air pollution while creating the risk of food contamination and serious health threats” also don’t create much support for the Green Party among farmers.

And the Conservatives? We don’t really know.

Ontario farmers Andrew Campbell and Stewart Skinner were recently on CTV’s My Morning show talking about what they wanted to see from the election campaign.

Any discussion would be useful, they said.

It would be good to hear someone talk about how the situation with China might be improved, they added — a topic that got little to no attention in the English leaders debate.

There’s been lots happening in agriculture in Canada — protein superclusters, food policy and a focus that hasn’t been there for generations. This election would have been a good time to have had a continued debate.

That just hasn’t happened.

A couple of welcomes

You’ll notice a new name in the Oct. 21, 2019 edition of Farmtario. David Fraser has been hired by Glacier FarmMedia (parent company of Farmtario) to provide coverage in Ottawa. We’re looking forward to his contributions. Check out his first column here.

And there’s another new name in the paper this week, Jennifer Glenney, but hers is a familiar face. Congratulations to reporter Jennifer Betzner on her marriage to Brandon Glenney.

About the author

Editor

John Greig has spent his career in agriculture journalism and communications. He lives on a farm near Ailsa Craig, Ontario. Contact John at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @jgreig

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