Money has flown around, but ag ignored in election

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Reporters working the trenches far from Ottawa's inner circles didn't need a failed vote in the House of Commons to tell us an election announcement was coming sooner than spring.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 09/04/2011 (4249 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Reporters working the trenches far from Ottawa’s inner circles didn’t need a failed vote in the House of Commons to tell us an election announcement was coming sooner than spring.

A flurry of federal announcements distributing support for an increasingly obscure list of recipients started in mid-February. The press releases were rolling in almost daily by mid-March, all prominently featuring ministers and/or local MPs and all containing glowing, appreciative statements from the recipient organizations.

If there was any doubt, the March 15 announcement from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada of $195,000 to help the Canadian geoduck clam (pronounced gooey) sector increase its exports was a dead giveaway that there was some political posturing taking place. And let’s not forget the grants to the Canadian Renderers Association ($130,000), Flowers Canada ($126,000), Ontario ginseng growers $63,000), the Canadian Nursery Landscape Association ($65,000), the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council of Canada ($175,000), and the Canadian Highly Migratory Species Foundation ($24,000).

SEAN KILPATRICK / THE CANADIAN PRESS ARCHIVES Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Gerry Ritz is now more conciliatory.

This is not to suggest that these groups weren’t deserving, only that in more normal times, such funding announcements would have been lumped together according to their purpose or program. The media would have received one or two releases listing all the groups that are getting help to improve exports, or their traceability systems or marketing networks, rather than individual releases sent out in triplicate.

Of course, the recipient organizations are happy to get their funds, but the timing of the announcements also conveniently placed them in the position of saying nice things about a party that a few days later would be formally seeking re-election.

Just before the election writ was dropped, the federal government also got around to saying it would do something about Canada’s sluggish railway performance — although one wonders whether the long-awaited announcement had more to do with meeting some predetermined quota for announcements than it did a commitment to correcting a long-standing problem.

Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz even came out with statements in March that seemed uncharacteristically conciliatory on the Canadian Wheat Board issue. Even though the agriculture vote in Prairie Canada tends to be Conservative, it’s clear that not all farmers support the party’s position on ending the board’s single-desk marketing authority. His remarks of late seemingly acknowledge that.

Ritz told farmers in Minnedosa March 15 the government will not attempt to impose dual marketing unless farmers vote for it. “Until farmers make that change, I’m not prepared to work arbitrarily,” Ritz said. “They are absolutely right to believe in democracy. I do, too.”

This is from the same minister who told the Canadian Federation of Agriculture annual meeting in March 2008 that “barley marketing freedom is coming and it’s time to lead, follow or get out of the way.”

While there’s no denying the debate over single-desk marketing of wheat and barley has polarized Prairie farmers, the farmer-director elections held every two years consistently elect a majority of directors who support keeping the single desk intact. It’s hard to quibble with those results.

The federal Conservatives have, until now, been unwavering in their commitment to ending the board’s single-desk authority, although the courts have made it clear that won’t happen unless there is a farmer plebiscite supporting such a move and Parliament agrees.

Neither is likely unless the Conservatives win a majority in this election. That’s when farmers will find out whether the party’s agenda on grain-marketing issues has changed.

Arguably, the party’s biggest fundraisers for its election coffers from rural Canada have been gun control and the CWB. Whenever a challenge fails, the letters go out telling the faithful to “send money” so the fight can continue.

All five federal parties will be represented in an agriculture debate sponsored by the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) on Monday where they will be grilled on issues such as trade, business risk management, environmental sustainability, food safety, and the National Food Strategy being promoted by the CFA.

So far in this election, food and agriculture issues haven’t been top of mind. The biggest campaign promise from the mainstream parties appears to be a commitment to enhanced food safety.

There should be lots to talk about, given food is an integral part of any population’s health and happiness and the fact Canada’s farmers have lost money from the marketplace in seven out of the past 10 years.

With only two per cent of the population, the challenge for farm groups is to persuade the rest of Canada that good food policy is at the core of addressing the really big issues in this election — a struggling economy and soaring health-care costs.

 

Laura Rance is editor of the Manitoba Co-operator. She can be reached at 792-4382 or by email: laura@fbcpublishing.com.

Laura Rance

Laura Rance
Columnist

Laura Rance is editorial director at Farm Business Communications.

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