Agriculture has been largely ignored in Election 2015. That is not to say there are not some very important issues facing farmers. However many producers are more concerned with bringing in their crops than worrying about the agricultural policies of the various parties. So I asked each of the political parties 9 questions about their agricultural platform and their stance on the issues that farmers seem to be most concerned about. Here are the verbatim responses from the 4 major national political parties:
- C: Conservative
- L: Liberal
- ND: New Democrats
- G: Green
Role of Government in Agriculture: What does your party see as the role of government in agriculture?
G: The Green Party has a clear plan to support family farms and communities. We must strengthen the mandate of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, reduce our dependence on short-sighted and damaging chemicals, encourage the production of quality produce and support local rural communities. Canadians deserve to have access to affordable and healthy food products and the Green Party is prepared to deliver.
The role of the federal government is to coordinate across provincial lines, to enforce uniform safety standards based on scientific evidence, and to support our farmers. We have an agricultural system we can be proud of but we need federal leadership to keep it.
C: When given a level playing field Canadian producers are second to none. Government must continue to ensure that farmers have a level playing field and then get out of the way so they can do what they do best – build their businesses, grow our economy and feed the world.
ND: New Democrats believe that Canadian products are some of the best in the world, and the federal government should make the targeted investments needed to promote them around the globe.
The NDP believes we need to work with the provinces and territories to address inter-provincial/ territorial barriers to trade in Canadian products.
The federal government must help Promote Canadian products around the world through trade and ensure that trade negotiations secure real and meaningful market access for Canadian exporters while protecting the supply-managed agricultural sectors.
L: Hard working, skilful farmers and ranchers form the foundation of our food sector. Everyone else’s success in the sector depends on primary producers in the first place. And Canada has the best in the world.
The role of government is to drive the growth and development of a competitive, innovative and sustainable Canadian agriculture and agri-food sector. What do you feel is the biggest issue facing farmers and agriculture today and what would you do about it?
C: To grow their businesses and our economy, farmers today need to stay competitive in the ever changing global environment. Farmers must have access to the latest inputs and the necessary market access to ensure their products can reach tables around the world. Free and unfettered trade combined with access to the latest varieties and technologies will ensure Canadian agriculture continues to thrive. Equally important is secession planning and ensuring access to stable capital through institutions like Farm Credit Canada. Our party will continue to work with young farmers to ensure they have access to the tools they need to achieve long, successful careers in agriculture. A reelected Conservative government will continue to work with farmers and the entire industry to take agriculture to unprecedented heights.
ND: After 10 years under Stephen Harper, family farms are struggling. Under the Conservatives, farm debt has hit new records every year, growing to more than $84 billion in 2014, but the Minister of Agriculture has said, he is not concerned. 30,000 small and medium-sized family farms have been lost under the Conservatives. Off-farm income has become increasing important to farm families, with 76% of the average family income coming from off-farm sources.
Agriculture and food are major drivers of the Canadian economy, nourishing our population and providing one out of eight jobs. Today’s farmers are modern farmers, and they need to be linked to cutting-edge research and market information. Our rural communities need investment and infrastructure, and to be linked to growing urban markets. We also need to make sure that agricultural development is sustainable and protects critical watersheds and natural environments.
New Democrats have developed a National Foods strategy and are the only party to do so. Tom Mulcair’s NDP is committed to continue finding ways to ease entrance barriers for new and young farmers. They are our future.
L: A Liberal government will invest in economic security and growth for the middle class. For farmers, we will focus on a handful of key issues affecting Canadian farmers and work on finding practical solutions, including improving grain handling and transportation, and designing farm safety net programs with farmers for farmers.
We will also stop giving government cheques to the wealthiest families, so we can give more to the middle class and those working hard to join it. We will create one bigger, fair, automatic, and tax-free monthly benefit that will help families with the high cost of raising their kids. A Liberal government will also will cut taxes for the middle class, so that Canadian farmers and all Canadians can keep more of their paycheques.
For middle class families, our current ‘no growth’ economy means sluggish employment, weak and sporadic job creation, and poor job quality. It means stagnant incomes, ballooning consumer debts, and serious concerns about making ends meet. All this has happened on Stephen Harper’s watch. A Liberal government will invest more in public and community infrastructure, ensure better access to post-secondary education, and work to grow the middle class.
The Liberal Party of Canada knows that an economy that works for the middle class means a country that works for everyone. Canadians know that better is always possible. They want change, and only the Liberal Party is offering a plan that will deliver growth that works for everyone. Our plan will make a real, meaningful difference in the lives of all Canadians.
G: The greatest issue facing farmers today is a lack of opportunity. Canada needs an innovative forward-thinking food strategy – one that promotes food security, food safety, and healthy food. We must protect the soil we depend upon. The Green Party believes strong national leadership is required to promote agricultural sustainability, energy efficiency, support farm families. This means encouraging the localization and diversification needed to stabilize the food economy without expensive government subsidies, and safeguarding the supply management system. It means thinking local, building soil capacity, encouraging economic diversity, reducing farm debt and increasing the number of young farmers. It means stronger food safety regulations, and an end to pesticide contamination in our food and water. The Green Party wants to put opportunity back into food production.
Federal Agricultural Support: What changes, if any, do you propose to agricultural risk management programs? (Do current programs need to be changed – if so how? Should there be more or less government price risk and production risk coverage? Is there a place for ad hoc programs?)
ND: Instead of helping farmers to deal with uncertainty, the Conservatives have gutted business risk management programs and refused to help produce growers by implementing a much needed payment protection program.
Canadian farmers face rising debt, a changing climate and tough markets. Our government should be there when times are tough for the people who feed Canadian families. Instead, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives sold the Canadian Wheat Board to foreign investors. They cut programs like Community Pastures and Shelterbelt. And the last time the Liberals were in power, their risk management program became a fiasco. This time around, they still don’t have a plan to help farmers through uncertain times. Tom Mulcair’s NDP is the only party with a national food strategy. Everybody Eats, the NDP’s Canadian food strategy expands risk management programs and supports new farmers. An NDP government will introduce a payment protection program for produce growers like the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act in the United States that will allow sellers to maintain an ownership trust until payment has been received.
L: Business Risk Management (BRM) programs provide government-supported insurance for farmers whose incomes fall due to disease, extreme weather or other unexpected events. Many farmers criticize existing programs as complicated, unpredictable and inadequate. Liberals believe that farmers facing financial hardship through no fault of their own should be given bankable, predictable support to avoid financial catastrophe and that the security of our food production system must be maintained. Successful BRM programs are best when designed by farmers for farmers.
G: The Green Party believes that agricultural risk management programs should be retooled to include measures to encourage responsible agriculture, smaller farms, and further diversification.
The Harper Conservatives have done nothing but cut funding for these programs. The current government’s food policy has encouraged farmers to produce bumper crops with little regard to quality, has helped perpetuate a system where paid farmers are paid little or nothing, and has allowed excess produce to be wasted. Canada needs an innovative, forward-thinking food strategy that supports our farmers.
We will promote restoring the conservation measures and land management programs of the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration. We must work to protect hedgerows and implement soil conservation measures, especially due to the increasing impact of droughts and climate change.
C: Farmers need programs that are bankable and predictable. As a Government we have established livestock price insurance and increased investments in crop insurance, which remains a producer’s first line of defence. At the same time we continue to have in place a full suite of business risk management programs to ensure farmers are protected during times of unforeseen market disruptions or natural disasters. We continue to work with our partners the provinces and industry to ensure programming meets the specific needs of producers.
Supply Management: Should supply management and quotas be protected? Would you be willing to end supply management if needed to secure a trade deal?
L: The Liberal Party of Canada supports supply management. Canada has historically managed to keep supply management while still giving other countries access to our markets. It doesn’t have to be any different now. The Harper Conservatives conducted TPP negotiations in secrecy without consultation and ignoring the people who do the heavy lifting in our economy. Liberals will act differently, working with farmers and producers to bring back fairness and strengthen the heart of the Canadian economy.
G: The Green Party of Canada will support supply management to keep prices fair for farmers in a time where farmers are under intense global pressure to cut costs and cut quality. American hormone-laced milk and antibiotic-filled chicken could easily flood into Canada and put our Canadian farmers out of business. Perishable food producers have banded together to protect Canadians from poor quality by managing the supply and guaranteeing fair prices.
None of that is to say that the Green Party would leave the system as is. The Green Party will work to improve the supply management system. The high cost of quota has become a liability as farms consolidate. Supply management can be reinvigorated by removing the cost from the bottom tier of quota, encouraging small, niche farms with free quota allocations. We must reduce quota debt costs to keep prices fair for citizens, and protect Canadians from sub-standard imports of perishable foods. The Green Party will improve supply management with quota exemptions to allow small operators to produce niche products for the local market.
C: Our party understands the value of supply management to producers and our overall Canadian economy. As a Government, we have signed free trade deals with 39 countries all while protecting the 3 pillars of supply management. Our Party has always supported supply management and we will continue to do so.
ND: Supply Management has proven to be invaluable in ensuring a livable income for dairy, egg and poultry producers without costly government subsidies, but Stephen Harper’s Conservatives are waffling on their commitment to defend supply management at the trade negotiation table.
Tom Mulcair has promised that an NDP government will support farmers. The NDP will maintain the integrity of our supply-managed egg, dairy, and poultry sectors and the rural incomes they support, and defend supply management at the trade negotiating table.
What is your stance on the growing of Genetically Modified Crops (GMOs)? (Should there be increased regulations? Should additional GMO crops be allowed? Should there be labelling of GMO products?)
G: With regard to Genetically Modified (GM) crops, the Green Party of Canada is guided by the precautionary principle. The Green Party believes that GMOs may pose a threat to human health and the health of natural ecosystems. Many Canadians want to follow the example of the European Union and ban GM crops. Polls show that eight in ten Canadians want mandatory labeling of GM foods and food ingredients. At a minimum, GM products must be labeled, giving consumers the right to know and to say no to GM foods. The Green Party will also protect and promote the farmer’s right to save and use non-GMO seed without penalty.
The Green Party is guided by scientific evidence. Before exposing Canadian people and environments to the potential risks of new agricultural technologies, we must ensure the long and short term effects are certain. It is up to the companies that produce and promote GM organisms to prove that they are safe. No such organism should be released into the environment until it is proven to pose no unacceptable risks to human or animal health or to the environment.
Green Party MPs will work to support local, provincial, and territorial GM organism-free zones where these local jurisdictions declare that GM plants and animals are not to be part of the agricultural mix. We will prohibit the field testing, commercial use, sale, and importation of ‘terminator’ (genetic use restriction) technologies, maintain the ban on GM wheat, and oppose GM alfalfa. We must end federal subsidies to the GMO industry. We need to make sure that we balance the economic benefits of innovation with public health and ecological integrity.
C: With a growing global population, the world is turning more and more to GM crops to meet the increasing demand for food while using a lighter environmental footprint. Canada has a rigorous, internationally recognized, science-based approach to GM Crops. All GM crops must meet Health Canada’s strict standards for human consumption before being approved. Mandatory labelling would unnecessarily increase costs to consumers, farmers and businesses. Our policies, which are supported by the majority in the industry, ensure that scientists determine the safety and sustainability of GM crops.
ND: The federal government has a direct role in ensuring that labelling is accurate and trustworthy, and that the public understands the information provided. Tom Mulcair’s New Democrats will ensure that food claims and images are clear, factual, informative and not misleading to the public. The NDP would develop labelling standards that improve consumer choice all the while ensuring that industry has the capacity to comply with consumer-driven change and adopt best practices.
L: Biotechnological innovation has been, and will continue to be, crucial to agricultural competitiveness and productivity. Strengthening our export market is absolutely critical for the health of the Canadian agricultural sector, and a Liberal government will consider innovation and the best interests of our farmers and consumers on these issues. The growing prevalence of GMOs should not come at the expense of the viability of non-GMO and organic strains of crops.
CWB and grain marketing: While the CWB no longer exists, it is still a very big issue on the prairies. What changes do you propose in the marketing, collection, transportation and delivery of prairie grains to buyers? (Should farmers have more ownership of the system? Governments role in system?)
C: Our Party was elected to give western Canadian farmers marketing freedom and we were proud to deliver. Western farmers are now able to sell their own wheat and barley to a buyer of their choosing at a time and price of their choosing, just like their colleagues in Eastern Canada have always done. For years now Western farmers have shown themselves to be adept at marketing all their other crops that were never required to be sold through the Wheat Board. Under marketing freedom wheat has seen a resurgence across the prairies, and on farm incomes are at all-time highs. While other parties may seek to reinstate the monopoly, farmers have moved on and are embracing the new economic opportunities created by marketing freedom.
As a Government, we took swift action through Bill C-30 to ensure grain and other bulk commodities can get to market in a timely manner. Thanks to our efforts, grain is moving at record volumes. Our party knows that the entire supply chain must work together, and as a government we will continue to work with industry to find efficiencies in the rail logistics system.
ND: Tom Mulcair is committed to making rail transportation safe and fair for producers. Farming infrastructure and rail transportation needs to treat all producers fairly and needs to enable the efficient storage, transportation and distribution of food. There needs to be a review of railway service levels and freight tariffs to ensure fair and efficient service for farmers, and an establishment of mandatory price reporting along the supply chain in order to increase transparency and provide better information to farmers. A review of infrastructure needs is also required in rural Canada to ensure sufficient linkages to regional and urban economic centres. The NDP is committed to working with farmers to fix the damage from the sale of the Wheat Board and maintain world-renowned grain inspection infrastructure and the public benefits it generates.
L: A Liberal government will work with farmers to fix the power imbalance between farmers and the grain companies and railways left by the abolition of the CWB “single desk”. Liberals had been vocal for years that the future of the CWB should be decided by western Canadian grain farmers themselves in a clear and democratic vote.
Canadian farmers and what they produce is world-class. They deserve a world-class handling and transportation system to deliver into global markets. They don’t have that today.
In 2013-14, the western grain handling and transportation system – designed and structured by the Harper government – failed miserably, imposing costs and losses on prairie producers totalling some $5-billion. The Conservatives were warned that they had created this huge vulnerability, but they persisted with a system dominated by a railway duopoly and a grain company oligopoly, in which producer interests are totally unrepresented.
An external review of the entire Canadian Transportation Act is underway and due to report by the end of this year. This opportunity must be seized to upgrade the deficient grain handling and transportation system.
A Trudeau-led Liberal government looks forward to the advice coming from this review. In responding to that advice, we are committed to ensuring farmers can obtain effective and enforceable service-level agreements with railways to move their grain to market.
G: When the Harper Conservatives’ gave the Wheat Board away to the Saudi-owned Global Grain Group, they left Canadian farmers more vulnerable than ever to economic downturns and price fluctuations. Without the Canadian Wheat Board protections, our farmers are at the mercy of foreign corporations and railways.
As Kate Storey, the Green Party’s Agriculture Critic and candidate for Dauphin – Swan River – Neepawa, said at the time:
“Canadian farmers built the Wheat Board – we paid for the building, the railcars, and the ships out of our grain cheques. The majority of farmers wanted to keep the Wheat Board but now that it’s gone, we should at least get the value of our assets returned to us.
“There may have been a few who wanted to get rid of the board but most of us appreciated the work that the Wheat Board did for keeping the railways in line, organizing the flow of grain, and raising the value of Canadian wheat. Most understood that if we waited a few months for our grain cheque, we would all be better off in the end.
“We see the difference between the price the grain company gives us compared to the price they get for our grain, and we are not happy. The sale of wheat and barley is like the Wild West now – the few who have advantages will prosper at the expense of the rest of us.
“Farmers are now at the mercy of grain companies and railways. We have lost the market protections we built and the Wheat Board assets we owned. That is not freedom. It is theft.”
Canadian grain farmers are vital to our agricultural exports and are strong pillars in their communities. We need a government that considers the impacts of its decisions and that won’t betray our farmers.
The Harper Conservatives have made it clear that shipping crude to port is more of a priority than getting grain to market. With the elimination of the Wheat Board, a bumper grain crop and the competition for rail cars from bitumen, prairie grain is having a hard time moving. Train cars are not available to move the crop. Farmers on Vancouver Island were alarmed to discover in December 2013 that their livestock was three days away from having no grain. Mills producing feed grains have been sharing supply as everyone in the industry recognizes that the system is in crisis. Prairie farmers are suffering as their crop cannot move. British Columbia farmers are dealing for the first time in living memory with uncertain grain supplies. In every respect, the federal government has only exacerbated these problems.
We must review railway costs and service now, and legislative disincentives are needed for poor railway performance, including penalties for failure to deliver rail cars on time. Stopping rail-line abandonment must be a priority. The federal government needs to protect producer car loading sites, requiring railways to give 3-year notice of intent to abandon, requiring public hearings, and obliging railways to justify abandonment.
Most of all, grain farmers need to be at the table when decisions are made about what shipments will gain priority. Green MPs will make getting prairie grains to market a priority.
Farm Land Ownership: Should there be restrictions on who can own designated agricultural land? (Restrict to actual farmers? Open ownership to Canadian investors and pension funds? Allow foreign ownership of land?)
ND: Tom Mulcair’s NDP is committed to protecting the legacy of agricultural land in Canada. An NDP government will work with provinces, territories and municipalities to prevent both domestic and foreign land speculation. The NDP is also committed to working with the provinces to identify major issues in the future of land use.
L: The Liberal Party of Canada supports provinces’ continued regulation of farmland ownership to ensure a dynamic agricultural sector.
G: Years of encouraging farmers either to expand or get out of the business has resulted in a massive and unsustainable farm debt. Policies that allow outsiders, such as pension plans, to buy land on speculation have priced farmland beyond the financial means of new farmers. We should be supporting small-scale farmers trying to get out of debt and rebuild a strong, resilient farming community. We need national leadership to establish standards where appropriate and clarify the provincial and federal jurisdictions. The Green Party will consider imposing a limit on non-resident land ownership to ensure that farmers do not have to compete with land speculators.
The Green Party will call for negotiated agreements with the provinces to secure the preservation of prime agricultural land in Canada. We will advocate for the reinstatement of the Canada Land Inventory program coupled with adequate funding to update and keep current a comprehensive record of land capability and land use as a vital ongoing aid to local planning. The federal government must take a greater role in providing sufficient fiscal incentives to other levels of government, including municipalities, to preserve farmland under their jurisdictions.
C: While land use is a responsibility of the provinces, our party understands the role that agriculture plays in rural communities across Canada, and the value it contributes to our overall economy. As urban areas expand, all levels of Government must ensure policies are crafted so that farmers can continue have access to the land and farm practices they need to produce the food products found on families’ tables day after day.
Input Costs: Farmers complain of high input costs (fuel, fertilizer, equipment, parts, chemicals, transportation, etc) and claim they have no way to control their costs. Do you see this as a problem, and if so, how would you address this issue?
L: Producers need to be able to monitor the full spectrum of input costs in order to make wise business decisions. Each farm input has its own complex, global market dynamic. Governments must ensure that these markets are competitive and that the transportation system provides the service required for all its users, including farm inputs.
G: Farmers are right to complain about high input costs. For many small farms, the input costs are so high they cannot make a profit. We need a holistic approach to our agricultural system to ensure that we are not squeezing farmers out of the picture. As Kate Storey, the Green Party’s Agriculture Critic and candidate for Dauphin – Swan River – Neepawa wrote:
“As a farmer, I understand the burden of high input costs. We need policies designed to give farm families their fair share of agricultural profits and encourage the next generation. Farmers work hard to produce affordable food, and the Green Party wants to protect the farmer’s right to a fair share of the food dollar. There is strength in numbers and we support marketing cooperatives like the CWB single desk to counter the power of railway, packer, processor and input monopolies.
“Greens are the only party to offer a comprehensive Food and Agriculture policy. We offer support to the farm family as the key to a quality, secure and sustainable food supply. We recognize the value of exports while protecting Canadians from inferior imported products. We protect the farmer’s right to save their own seed, expand organic opportunity and build local, domestic markets. Greens blend science with farmer innovation to develop an energy efficient, ecologically respectful, secure food supply for Canadians.”
C: While the market will decide prices of inputs, increased competition – through our Government’s efforts to get access to new markets and reduce regulation – will ensure that farmers have access to the latest inputs and varieties they need to grow their businesses.
ND: NDP Leader Tom Mulcair is committed to addressing affordability issues on farms. There is a need to grow farm incomes, ensure that farming remains profitable for producers, and ensure that Business Risk Management tools meet the needs of today’s producers.
The NDP believes that there should be public and affordable crop, livestock and farm insurance, timely, effective and fairly distributed disaster relief, and best practices should be promoted to reduce input costs through more efficient, innovative and sustainable equipment and production methods.
Cost savings for farms can be attained in the long term with reduced reliance on greenhouse gases in the farming sector. The NDP is in support of encouraging the continued reduction of greenhouse gases across the farming and agri-food sector and the promotion of investment in clean energy.