When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau won the fall election, the agriculture industry knew that it would face real challenges being viewed as a priority industry. I think the challenge has become much bigger than even the greatest skeptics of Mr. Trudeau could have imagined.
The prime minister’s announced $252 million in COVID-19 relief for the agricultural sector is being met with frustration from hog and beef producers, and the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, since the three groups had asked for $100 million, $500 million, and $2.6 billion respectively. It would seem that messaging to date just doesn’t seem to be getting through to this government.
Over the past months and, more importantly, weeks under COVID-19, agriculture has shifted its messaging to attempt to appeal to this urban-centric government.
Agriculture began by talking about how important the industry is to the economy, how many jobs are created, how it is the fabric of vast acres of the country so on and so forth. This is a traditional, rational argument that seemed to solicit no reaction for support.
More recently, agriculture has ditched romanticized farming talking points for something more closely connected to the consumer: food.
The talking points have centred around food security, food production, food supply, food, food, food. Sadly, it seems even that has not resonated, as evidenced by this latest announcement by the Prime Minister.
It’s time for a new plan, clearly, but what should that plan be?
Is there a way to connect with the Finance Minster Bill Morneau and Prime Minster Justin Trudeau? It’s easy to give in and say it’s impossible. But we can’t afford to take such a defeatist attitude. There are fruit and vegetable growers and pork and beef producers that are in a desperate dire financial situation right now. A lack of access to labour and reduced packing capacity has crippled the industry. We know that Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau is struggling to carry our message and influence leaders in cabinet so we need to recognize this in our new strategy.
My bet is that Europeans would go the route of major demonstrations and theatrical antics to gain attention. Quebec farmers in the past have fulfilled their own versions of these extreme tactics. Some people argue that we need to better explain why the current business risk management (BRM) programs are not working for livestock which is why they are not utilized. Others maintain agriculture will not push the Trudeau in its direction until people in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver push him there.
We need a new plan.
We may have to throw away produce or cull animals in the short term, but we have to find a way to influence the Trudeau government before some great farmers disappear due to one really bad turn.