Parties support ag sector, differ on details

The agriculture policies of all five major Canadian political parties were put front and centre in a debate hosted by the Canadian Federation of Agriculture in Ottawa on Monday.

All of the parties were in agreement that agriculture was important to the country, but there was some disagreement on just how the government should be working for farmers.

Conservative agriculture minister Gerry Ritz was joined by Liberal agriculture critic Wayne Easter, Bloc Quebecois agriculture critic Andre Bellavance, New Democratic Party representative Pat Martin, and Kate Storey of the Green Party, as they discussed agriculture ahead of the May 2 election.

International trade, food safety, risk management, farm succession planning and government programs were the major topics of discussion as the politicians responded to a number of pre-recorded questions put forth by farmers from across the country.

As the current ag minister, Ritz highlighted the Conservative government’s efforts in improving international trade while also providing risk management programs for farmers and funds for domestic research.

Easter, of the Liberals, argued that the numbers provided by the Conservatives couldn’t be trusted. The Liberals have their own national food policy which would focus on generating sustainable farm incomes and programs “from the farm up, not Ottawa down.”

Martin, of the New Democratic Party, pointed to his party’s own Canadian food policy and highlighted the disparity created by previous Conservative and Liberal governments between increased international trade but declines in actual farm revenues. Martin also advocated for more money to go to agricultural research.

The Green Party platform is focused on policies that would benefit smaller family farms, as opposed to large-scale agriculture. Storey spoke of the need for decentralized food production and increased local processing.

The Green Party is also in favor of more research that would focus on producing high-quality food and good returns for farmers, while shifting away from genetically modified crops.

The Bloc Quebecois only runs candidates in Quebec, and a key feature of its platform is the support of the supply-managed sector which is important to poultry, dairy, and egg producers in the province.

While there were no direct questions regarding the Canadian Wheat Board, the future of the marketing agency did generate the most heated exchange of the discussion as it is often linked in with supply management when international trade agreements are discussed.

The NDP’s Martin, whose Winnipeg riding includes the CWB headquarters, accused Ritz of wanting to do away with the CWB for ideological purposes. Easter and Storey also spoke out in favour of maintaining the CWB.

Martin expressed concern that the Conservative government may be paying lip service to keeping the CWB under the control of farmers, while allowing it to be dismantled through international agreements.

While not agreeing or disagreeing, Ritz countered that the future of the CWB should be kept in the hands of western Canadian farmers.

Ritz also noted that canola, which is not under the CWB’s control, is now the most profitable crop for western Canadian farmers.

He also pointed to problems with the current system that make it difficult to develop local processing, as Prairie wheat and barley must move through the CWB.

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