These days I am becoming more thankful to those who do thankless work.
About one month ago, I settled in Ottawa. I claim “the West” as home to those here who ask. Most of my growing up was in Calgary and the bulk of my journalism career up until now has been in Saskatchewan.
Now here I am in Ottawa, on the brink of a federal election: Thinking about how thankful I am to those who do thankless work.
The sentiment comes out of spending more time with folks connected to the world of agriculture.
Countless hours of my life have been spent driving across the Prairies. Maybe this is why I stopped appreciating the meticulous efforts put in to keeping the endless fields of wheat, barley or canola growing.
In certain circles of Ottawa, you’ll be reminded of just how important such work is. There is no shortage of lobbyists or trade organizations to remind one of the value their production sector has to the Canadian economy.
Few other industries involve the hours and labour associated with agricultural work.
As I get to know some of the people who care deeply about the importance of such work, I am struck again at the little attention most of Canada pays to it.
There is little talk from any party on the campaign trail of agriculture or agri-food.
Recent use of the word “agriculture” is nowhere to be seen on the Conservative Party of Canada’s website. As I write this 10 days before the election, the party has yet to release a policy or make any grand pronouncements related to agriculture. To that end, it’s difficult to know what policy it would support if given the privilege to govern.
This one is particularly strange to me, given farmers and rural communities are broadly more likely to vote in this election as they have in the past: for Conservatives.
The Liberal party dedicates a portion of its platform to rural success and agri-food, setting a goal of increasing exports and, among other things, expanding the mandate of Farm Credit Canada (details of what this would entail remain a mystery).
In the NDP you can find, among others, commitments to compensate farmers for losses from trade negotiations and give low-cost startup loans to new farmers.
None of this strikes as being particularly ground shifting. Thankless work.
Considering roughly one in eight Canadian jobs is tied to the agriculture or agri-food industry, it seems there should be more attention paid to the sector by politicians. The 2017 “Barton Report” identified the sector of being key to growth in Canada, and polls exist showing food security and agriculture should be issues of priority in the campaign.
There is no shortage of ideas available for political leaders to draw from. Recently, the Canadian Agri-Food and Trade Alliance, penned an open letter to political parties, denouncing, “the lack of serious discussion in this election about how to secure Canada’s long-term economic success by continuing to grow our exports.”
It calls on the next federal government to take significant steps in, among other things, preserving and enhancing “key export markets.”
In doing so, it joined other producer groups in asking for essentially the same thing: access to more diverse markets and the ability to be flexible with how and where they sell their product.
The notion of creating such stability within the global market is, by far, what gets brought up most in my early conversations with folks tied to the industry living and working in Ottawa.
Pages of ink have been spent in this publication detailing the impact trade issues with China, India, Italy and others are having on the Canadian economy. Broadly, trade tensions and tariffs are in part responsible for weaker economic growth.
Excess global stockpiles, mixed with the lingering impacts of soft price conditions and high input costs lead to challenging times for Canadian farmers.
Despite such challenges agriculture and agri-food business in Canada remains poised to grow — even if none of this is being talked about in the midst of the federal election.