Liberals vow to rework AgriFlex, review ag programs

The farming planks in the federal Liberals’ election platform include plans to review all federal ag programming and to reboot AgriFlexibility, but drew fire from an opponent for two absent words.

The Liberals’ platform on rural issues, launched this week, makes no mention of the party’s previous commitment to protect Canada’s supply management system in future trade deals, southeastern Ontario Conservative MP Pierre Lemieux said in a release Tuesday.

The Liberal platform “is silent on supply management, which is one of the most important issues facing the people who work our land and feed Canadians, our farmers,” said Lemieux, who before last week’s election call was the parliamentary secretary to Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz.

The Conservatives said Tuesday their campaign platform, when released, “will contain a clear commitment to supply management.”

The Liberals, meanwhile, pledged in their rural platform that a Michael Ignatieff-led government “will work in partnership with Canadian farmers to build farm programs from the farm up, not Ottawa down.”

The Liberals pledged to restore the federal AgriFlexibility initiative to its “original mission” of offering regionally flexible programs including “practical, bankable business risk management to help farmers meet their costs of production.”

As examples of such programs, the Liberals cited the new Risk Management Program in Ontario, Quebec’s Assurance stabilization des revenues agricoles (ASRA), market price insurance and improved crop insurance in the West, and the Buy Atlantic program.

“That means we’ll have flexible funding for programs such as the Ontario Risk Management Program, where Stephen Harper has told farmers ‘no,'” Ignatieff said in a release Wednesday.

Program review

The Liberal platform also calls for a “Clean Slate Commitment,” meaning a complete review of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada programming, conducted “in partnership with farmers,” within the first year of a Liberal government.

Such a review would include business risk management programs, agricultural research, innovation and environmental programs, the party said.

Other farming-related planks laid out in the Liberals’ platform included:

  • strengthening the Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) initiative and introducing new environmental goods and services (EG+S) programs that reward farmers for environmentally sustainable initiatives such as carbon sequestration or setting aside land for wildlife habitats;
  • investing in development of “clean energy from Canadian farms” including biomass, wind, solar and geothermal energy – as part of the Liberal commitment to quadruple Canada’s clean energy production;
  • a “comprehensive review” of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) to ensure “effective co-ordination” of Canada’s food safety system;
  • an additional $50 million over four years to improve food inspection at CFIA and to ensure domestic food safety standards are applied also  to foods imported into Canada;
  • expansion of export opportunities by building Canada’s international brand as a producer of the “highest-quality foods and beverages in the world;”
  • support of capacity-building in local food production and food security among the world’s “most vulnerable” nations by reassessing the Canadian International Development Agency’s (CIDA) priority nations list and focusing on initiatives such as micro-lending, research, trade-related capacity building and supporting ag productivity and sustainability;
  • 100 per cent high-speed internet connectivity across rural Canada within three years; and
  • a freeze on post office closures and a priority on resuming discontinued postal services.

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