Now that we’re several weeks into the federal election campaign, it’s clear the words “agriculture” and “farming” have been left out of the main messages repeated by most candidates. It’s disappointing, but given the precedent set in politics over the last few decades, it’s not at all surprising.
Rather than preaching to the choir at the coffee shop or on Twitter about how agriculture has been ignored again, what if that energy was directed toward making ag issues part of the election discussion?
In farming, if something’s not working, you try to fix it. You don’t just stand around complaining, hoping someone else will deal with it. The same goes for politics. Party leaders might not be accessible from the combine or tractor cab, but why not engage with local candidates? It can’t hurt to have them be familiar with important ag issues.
Following up on Owen Roberts’ list of 10 things every candidate should know about Canadian agriculture, here are 10 questions to ask your candidates to help get the ag conversation going:
What’s your party’s position on GMO labeling? An NDP motion introduced in the House of Commons last year called for mandatory labeling of foods that contain GMO ingredients, which could have major implications on the entire ag and food supply chain. (Related: Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall asks leaders, “What’s your stance on GMOs?”)
Similar to the question about GMOs, in that it involves potentially restricting a tool commonly used in modern agriculture: would your party consider banning the use of neonicotinoid seed treatments? A motion was passed at the 2014 Liberal convention to ban the sale and use of these seed treatments in Canada. Neonics are just the tip of the iceberg in a much larger discussion about making science-based regulatory decisions.
Would your party ratify a Trans-Pacific Partnership if a trade agreement is reached? Election rules have been clarified to allow Canadian negotiators to participate in the TPP negotiations during the campaign, but ratification in Parliament would be up to whichever party forms government on October 20th. It’s tough for Canada’s trade representatives to promise anything if they can’t guarantee the elected party will implement it.
As a follow-up to the TPP question, since the trade talks have sparked discussion about the future of the marketing system for dairy, poultry and eggs, what are your party’s plans for supply management? All parties have pledged their support, but as shown in the European trade deal and the TPP talks, the Conservatives have been willing to allow more imports. Would the other parties do the same?
Business risk management
BRM programs help farmers cope with the volatile nature of ag markets and weather patterns. Most farmers say AgriStability hasn’t succeeded in providing predictable and transparent income stabilization. What would your party change?
What would your government’s approach be to federal funding for ag research, keeping in mind this research is usually for the public good? This could include plant breeding, applied agronomic and livestock research, and much more.
The grain backlog in 2013-14 was a clear signal that capacity for grain in the rail system must be addressed as crop yields continue trending higher. What’s the role of the federal government in improving grain movement in Western Canada? Would your party invest in rail or port infrastructure? What incentive would you give the railways to move more grain?
What’s your party’s policy on biofuels and federal biofuel mandates? Biofuel policy may no longer be a trendy topic, but changes in grain-for-fuel demand would impact both grain and livestock producers.
Will your party implement or maintain programs to ensure farmers have access to seasonal labour? Meat processing plants are also suffering from a shortage of available workers, threatening the viability of domestic processing. What would your party do to address these labour challenges?
And perhaps, most importantly: how do farms affect the local economy? How do you see farmers and the ag sector contributing to this riding?
Any others that should be added? Feel free to share them in the comment section.