Uncertainty goes hand in hand with change, and so after almost a decade of Conservative government, the shift to a Liberal majority in Ottawa brings with it plenty of questions, including questions about the future of Canadian agriculture (in no particular order):
Who’s going to be the next ag minister? The Liberals have several ag veterans returning to the House of Commons, including former federal ag minister Ralph Goodale; former parliamentary secretary to the ag minister and long-time National Farmers Union president Wayne Easter; and another former parliamentary secretary, most recent ag critic and former Nova Scotia Outstanding Young Farmer, Mark Eyking. Goodale could be in line for a more senior cabinet post. There doesn’t appear to be much ag experience among the new MPs headed to Ottawa.
- What does the future hold for Gerry Ritz? Former(!) Ag Minister Gerry Ritz was re-elected in Battlefords-Lloydminster by more than 14,600 votes over the NDP’s Glenn Tait. Will Ritz serve the humbling role of ag critic for the Official Opposition? Also of note, NDP ag critic Malcolm Allen lost his seat in Niagara Centre to Liberal Vance Badawey.
- Farm group politics — who will have more/less influence? The party in power can pick and choose to work with organizations whose ideology fits its policy. The Conservatives worked closely with right-leaning groups while privatizing the Canadian Wheat Board and promoting trade around the world. Will those groups (eg. the Western Canadian Wheat Growers) fall out of favour? There were grumblings the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, whose past president Bob Friesen ran for the Liberals in 2008, wasn’t given as much access in the Harper years. Gerry Ritz considered the National Farmers Union to be irrelevant. Will this change? And how will it impact federal ag policy?
- Will the Liberals ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership? The answer to this question appears to be “yes,” but they would like to see more details/transparency in the TPP deal (Mark Eyking discussed the Liberals’ views on the TPP and other ag issues on last week’s TWORA podcast). The Canada-European Union trade deal has also not yet been ratified.
- What about retaliating against the U.S. over COOL? The Conservatives, together with the beef and pork sectors, have invested millions in fighting the U.S. meat labeling laws. The Liberals told the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association they will follow through “with an aggressive response to ensure that the United States adheres to the ruling of the WTO.”
- How will a Liberal government impact public ag research funding? The Conservatives shifted research funding to more private-public partnerships and the cluster-based approach. How will this change under Trudeau?
- How will the government handle science-based regulatory decisions around issues like neonics and genetically modified crops? The federal Liberals have some close ties with Ontario’s Liberal government, which is implementing a near-ban on neonicotinoid seed treatments. A motion was passed at the 2014 Liberal convention to ban the sale and use of neonics in Canada. Whether neonics or GM labeling, regulatory decisions like this could have a widespread impact.
- What will the government’s policy be on labour programs that help address employee shortages in ag? Regarding the Temporary Foreign Worker program, the Liberals have said they would “fix it and ensure it is returned to its original purpose: filling jobs when qualified Canadians simply cannot be found.”
- They wouldn’t bring back the Wheat Board, right? Politically it seems very unlikely and not worth the fight, but some people have apparently not given up.
- Where will agriculture and food rank on the government’s list of priorities? Perhaps most important of all these questions, where will agriculture and food production fit in the overall scheme of running the country? The number of MPs with farming backgrounds in the governing party has certainly dropped, but there is increasing public interest in food-related issues. Will the federal government help the ag community maintain and build trust with Canadians?
Other questions to be sorted out: How will the government’s climate change policies impact farming? Will the legalization of marijuana happen and what will that involve? Will market access and trade remain a high federal priority? How will the Liberals, who were very critical of how the Conservatives handled the rail backlog, address grain transportation challenges? How will tax and/or business risk management program changes impact farms?
Time will tell.
Feel free to share your questions/opinions below, or vote in our informal poll: How will a Liberal majority impact your farm?