There’s rarely enough news in politician visits to farmer group meetings to justify a report.
Sometimes there’s an announcement to be made and then they let the farm media know in advance that we need to pay attention.
The script is usually similar:
Tell farmers, with exact numbers, how many members they have in their organizations, and then quantify the economic impact of the sector.
They then try to find some sort of connection to farming – a grandfather, a sister, a summer job.
This isn’t unique to agriculture. It’s a template politicians follow as they are tossed into a presentation or speech to a different group of people each day. I don’t envy them the need to be fresh with each speech.
I recently tuned into the Grain Farmers of Ontario’s March Classic to hear the varied group of politicians on the schedule. The March Classic lineup usually is pretty interesting, compared to some agriculture political speaking lineups as it attracts high profile politicians and who is there and who is not can tell a story about political winds and the issues that are prominent in the sector.
GFO usually has a political commentator or former politician who helps provide some national context to current political trends. This year it was Althia Raj, an insightful political commentator who until recently was with the Huffington Post before it was unceremoniously shut down.
The first observation is who was not there. No Liberals provincial or federal were on the speaking list, something that Raj says surprised her.
The provincial Liberals had their numbers decimated in the 2018 election and they haven’t been showing up at agriculture events for a while.
The federal Liberals, however, are governing during a pandemic, which might be one reason for no representation. Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau has a lot on her schedule. However, there’s election posturing with the government a minority, so it’s surprising they didn’t send any representative.
I don’t expect the Liberals appreciated the GFO campaign last summer and fall that promoted U.S. President Trump as being a better friend of farmers than Prime Minister Trudeau.
The federal Conservatives, however, were more than happy to provide a virtual visit from leader Erin O’Toole, who tried out some potential election messaging including diversifying trade away from China, promising to bring back the million jobs that were lost during the pandemic and promising to provide better health and economic management than has been seen under the Liberals. He was short on agriculture policy other than a promise that his climate action would not include a carbon tax.
Alistair MacGregor, the NDP’s agriculture critic, is usually well-informed and he showed that again in his March Classic address stating that he sees three priorities for agriculture including:
- Perennial labour challenges, including pathways to citizenship for foreign workers.
- Processing capacity and strengthening the food system from future shocks.
- Recognize the role that agriculture can play a leading role in combatting climate change. He said he supported Bill C206, which would exempt grain drying from federal carbon taxes.
Well-informed on the provincial agriculture file is minister Ernie Hardeman who said he also supported the federal Bill C206 – which he joked was the first time the ministry had supported a federal initiative.
He also pitched that Prairie provinces need to come onside related to AgriStability, and a federal/provincial proposal that could increase payouts to farmers. That might also be a federal proposal he’s supporting, but he’s right, the Prairie provinces need to get in line on needed changes to AgriStability.
I’ve heard Premier Doug Ford speak several times to farmers, and as with most of those times, he referred to them as “salt of the earth” and “champions” in his video-taped address to GFO.
What did we learn from this year’s GFO politician visits, especially related to federal politics?
The Liberals are AWOL when it comes to eastern grain farmers, the federal Conservatives are on an election footing, and the NDP, as the third party in parliament can be free to make broader suggestions, which are also, sometimes, thoughtful policies.