Ag leaders debate hot topics ahead of federal election

It’s not often that the federal agriculture minister gets together in one room with opposing critics to talk about agriculture. Ahead of the 43rd election, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) held an agriculture leaders debate where the four main parties — the Conservative Party of Canada, Green Party, Liberal Party, and NDP — stand on key agricultural issues.

Representing each party was:

  • Luc Berthold, Conservative Party of Canada
  • Kate Storey, Green Party
  • Agriculture minister Marie-Claude Bibeau, Liberal Party
  • Alistair MacGregor, NDP

To note, the debate was taped earlier in the day and questions weren’t made public prior, however it appears as though candidates had briefing notes on their individual podiums.

After getting through introductions, host of the debate, Kelsey Johnson asked the first question in relation to what each party would do to prioritize agriculture both at home and abroad. A simple question, yet one where each leader took it in different directions. For the NDP, MacGregor points out the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and its purpose, along with how local communities need to have, “local food hubs” to speed up the process of farm to fork. Storey went straight to talk about climate change and how, “it’s our job to do something to get those emissions down” after pointing the finger to farmers and how they use nitrogen in their fields.

Other questions surrounded risk management solutions that address producers’ concerns; export potential with emerging sectors such as pulse and oilseeds, aquaculture, agri-food technology and how the party would help these sectors to reach full potential; and, how would a party ensure costs associated with the disruption of supply management sectors (due to trade) be returned to producers. Of note, Conservative MP Luc Berthold said that his party would not negotiate any more access to Canada’s supply management sectors.

Interestingly, party candidates didn’t go into much detail with promises or solutions to the problems at hand (with the Green’s Storey perhaps thee only one with platform points) rather finger pointing continued as the clock continued to tick.

Right before a short break, Johnson introduced rapid fire questions, where leaders had to simply say yes or no, then could follow up with a 30 second rebuttal once all leaders answered the question. Here were the results:

Do you support the use of GMOs? 

NDP, “no”

Green Party, “absolutely not, no”

CPC, “yes”

Liberals, “you know politicians can’t answer by yes or no … yes”

Do you think activists have the right to enter Canadian farms without permission?

Green Party, “No, no one has the right to enter someone’s farm”

Liberals, “no”

CPC, “absolutely not”

NDP, “no”

Do you support the current government’s regulatory plan to implement front of package labeling?

Liberals, “yes”

CPC, “no”

NDP, “yes”

Green Party, “yes”

Do you support the Canada food guide as currently written?

CPC, “nope”

NDP, “yes”

Green Party, “yes”

Liberals, “yes”

Though the candidates could go into rebuttal after the question was answered by all, most again, did not dive further into if elected, what their government would do to fix said topic.

It wasn’t until the fifth question where the topic of China was brought up. Johnson asked the leaders, “What immediate actions would your party take to address and remedy China’s decision to block some Canadian agricultural exports?” Berthold was quick to point out the current government had ample time to send a delegation over to the Asian country to sort out what the real problem was. Meanwhile, Minister Bibeau called the Chinese crisis, “highly complicated” and pointed out the CPC ag critic doesn’t, “appreciate the complexity of this issue.” She also reiterated choosing an Ambassador to China doesn’t just happen overnight.

Interesting to note, MacGregor was the only candidate to bring up Huawei and says the court case is “looming in the background” with two Canadian lives at stake.

As time went on the last three questions were, considering today’s shifting global trade environment, what would your party do to ensure Canadian farmers can still both maintain and grow their export markets?

The final question — around labour shortages and temporary foreign works — was the only question that really sparked any fireworks, after the Green candidate Storey accused those using the program to treating foreign workers like slaves. All three other candidates took major issue with her statement, and used their time to express their anger with Storey’s comments.

You can watch the debate on YouTube here, or check out reaction on Twitter by searching the hashtag #agdebate.

Reaction

Unfortunately, with any speech or debate, time goes by quite quickly before all questions can get answered in full. In this case, Johnson did stick to schedule and got through the eight key questions along with the rapid fire round.

Feedback from farmers included that they felt as though certain hot topics such as trade, the signing of the USMCA, compensation for other commodities other than supply managed ones, rural crime, transportation regulations and risk management programs could have been brought up a bit more rather than bashing each others platform.

Only a couple of times did the classic, “If re-elected/elected my party promises to…” phrase be brought up in discussion. With only 26 days left until Canadians head to the polls, now would be the time for parties to unveil what their plans are for agriculture.

Although certain key topics did get touched on, some farmers who were following along with the debate thought it didn’t really give much perspective as to what each party was promising in the future.

One Manitoban farmer told RealAgriculture:

“I don’t think that they really offered any policy solutions. We have a farm transition issue. Only 30% of farms transition. Why? Farmers are getting older. Solution? Foreign ownership is increasing. Solution? Instead we got into topics that required scientific or agricultural knowledge that none of the debaters seemed to have. So they were allowed to spew falsehoods without fact checking. That was frustrating to watch. But also educational as to how little the average citizen or worse politician knows.”

While another producer from Saskatchewan called it, “a missed opportunity to connect with farmers who want to know what will happen with the future of ag.”

Meanwhile, those who were using the hashtag, #AgDebate, gave their two-cents on twitter.

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