Political campaigners have an adage, “public policy is set by those who show up.”
We are in the middle of a federal election and now is the best time for individual producers to influence policy. Now is the time for you to actively participate in the political process and let your voice be heard, and to ask yourself, ‘What message do you want your next member of Parliament to deliver to Ottawa?’
Canadians will elect 338 MPs on September 20, with 14 coming from Manitoba. Every one of these MPs will influence, for good or bad, what happens on your farm, the international markets that will be open to you, and the regulations you will face as you work to bring high-quality safe food to Canadian consumers and people around the world.
There are both urban and rural communities in Manitoba that are thriving because of the investments made by our industry. This is a story that producers need to tell directly. I am confident that when candidates and parties know and understand the value of agriculture, good public policy will follow.
What does “showing up” mean? Every constituency is likely going to have all-candidates meetings (if your riding does not have some scheduled, organize one). Go to these sessions prepared to stand up for the potential of agriculture and the future of your farm. Instead of avoiding candidates when they come door knocking, engage with them on agricultural issues.
Don’t assume that your candidates understand the importance of agriculture, even if you are in a rural riding. Engagement by farmers, and telling the story of agriculture, will help to drive candidates, and the parties that they represent, to openly acknowledge the significant role that our industry plays in the economy and the makeup of our communities.
What agricultural issues should you consider raising with candidates? There are some that cut across all sectors of agriculture. Access to international markets is one example. Most Manitoba farmers depend upon international markets for their incomes. For instance, Manitoba exports approximately 90 per cent of the hogs raised in this province, either through processed pork or live animals.
Export-dependent farmers need governments to pursue trade agreements, like the Canada-E.U. Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) or the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). We also need governments to go beyond negotiating agreements. We need to see significant new resources dedicated to ensuring that trade agreements really do increase our access to new markets, and that the promise of free trade is not rendered void by protectionist non-tariff barriers.
China is one of the largest importers of Canadian agricultural commodities, however, this relationship has not been founded on science-based rules of trade. China is using unscientific, unjustified policies to limit the export of Canadian meat as well as grains and oilseeds. These trade barriers are costing farmers millions. There are no simple solutions to challenges with China, but farmers need a government that is willing to dedicate additional resources and launch a more strategic approach that partners with Canadian farmers and exporters.
Agriculture faces significant market volatility and production risk. The drought this summer provides a vivid example of this. These risks put the long-term financial sustainability of the industry in peril and limits the opportunities for additional investments. Manitoba’s agriculture value chains need candidates to recognize the need to reform business risk management programs, such as AgriStability, to make the programs easier to use, more predictable and timely. Compensation rates should be increased to levels that ensure farmers get the help they need when they face a disaster.
Foreign animal diseases like African swine fever (ASF) or foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) would devastate livestock production in Manitoba if they are discovered here. Producers will lose their livelihoods and thousands of jobs would be at risk. Producers are working with governments, but more needs to be done to plan and prepare for foreign animal disease detection in Canada. We need candidates to commit to building partnerships with industry and ensuring that we have the resources, both fiscal and human, available to combat these threats.
In Manitoba, eradicating invasive wild pigs is a key policy requirement to prevent the spread of disease. Wild pigs can be reservoirs to foreign animal diseases like ASF and FMD. They also can be repositories for diseases like PRRS (porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome), PED (porcine epidemic diarrhea), and other infectious illnesses. Candidates should be challenged to explicitly commit to an eradication plan.
These are a sample of the policy areas that are important for the future of agriculture in Manitoba. The most important thing is to push candidates to support the industry and its people. Now, during the election period, is the time to get involved. After all, if producers don’t speak for agriculture there will be others who will, and while they may not understand our industry, they will become the ones who will influence those who will be going to Ottawa.
Stay informed, get involved, and don’t forget to vote on September 20.
Cam Dahl is general manager of the Manitoba Pork Council.