LEADERS vying for votes in the federal election should be paying more attention to food security and affordability across the country, according to a national agri-food survey released Tuesday.
Manitobans and Atlantic Canadians were most likely to rank food security as a top issue that deserves more attention in this election campaign, but Manitobans were also among the least optimistic that the issue will get the attention it deserves.
Sixty-eight per cent of respondents from Manitoba and Atlantic Canada said the availability of affordable food is the most important agri-food issue right now. The other top two issues for Manitobans were food waste and feeding northern communities. But Manitobans had the lowest level of optimism, at 25 per cent, that food security would become a key issue in the campaign. Three-quarters of Manitobans surveyed didn’t think political parties would bring attention to agriculture and food issues. In Quebec, where politicians have already talked about agriculture during this campaign, survey respondents were the most optimistic.
The survey was conducted Sept. 9 by Angus Reid Global for Dalhousie University’s Agri-Food Analytics Lab and had a total of 1,524 respondents. Data on how many Manitobans were surveyed as part of the overall sample was not available. The survey results have a less than three per cent margin of error, 19 times out of 20.
Sylvain Charlebois, senior director of Dal’s Agri-Food Analytics Lab, said the results shed light on the divisiveness of agriculture issues in different regions of the country. The Prairies are most likely aligned with the Atlantic because both regions have pressing concerns about affordability of food and both have felt left out of the national agenda, he said.
"Affordability is a huge issue. Now, the Liberal government kind of made themselves champions of the middle class, but I must say that affordability seems to be an issue and food is no exception, and so that may explain why the results were like that," Charlebois said.
Of all the regions in the country, Manitobans were most likely to say they were unsure which political party is best poised to deal with food security and agriculture issues. The national results showed most Canadians are unsure, but the federal Conservatives ranked first of the political parties that respondents chose when they were asked which party could best support Canadian consumers and the agri-food sector.
"The level of uncertainty, it’s very high," Charlebois said.
"I hope that food and agriculture will get some attention, because they rarely do during a campaign. Other issues, equally as important of course — labour, immigration, health, the economy — I mean all of these issues are very important during a campaign, but you rarely hear about food and agriculture, which is always unfortunate."
Rob Moquin, policy director of Food Matters Manitoba, said it’s significant that both regions felt food security was their most important issue.
"That’s not surprising. In fact, Atlantic Canada and Manitoba are known for having the highest proportions of childhood household food insecurity," Moquin said. Leaders need to address poverty to get at the root of the issue, he said, and it’s heartening to know people are paying attention.
"There is a growing awareness; I think that’s what’s inspiring," he said. "We just need that leadership, and I think that it’s coming."
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Katie May reports on courts, crime and justice for the Free Press.