Manitoba’s agricultural sector is gearing up for a minority Liberal government, and farm groups say there is a long list of issues to get on the table.
Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party slipped from an easy majority to 157 seats when Canada went to the polls Oct. 21, 13 shy of a majority government. The Conservatives, meanwhile, made up some of the ground they had lost in 2015, rising from 99 seats to 121.
Why it matters: Agriculture was not a driving topic of the Oct. 21 federal election, but farm groups say they have a long list of issues to take up with the new Liberal minority government.
The close split puts eyes on both the Bloc Québécois, which gained ground over a vast swath of Quebec to take 32 seats, and the 24 seats now held by the NDP (down from 44 in 2015). Talks of a coalition between the Liberals and NDP were already in the news prior to the election as analysts began forecasting a minority government.
The incoming minority, “places different dynamics on our government right now,” Keystone Agricultural Producers president Bill Campbell said, noting that he expects the topic to take centre stage during Canadian Federation of Agriculture meetings in Ottawa next week.
“It will be interesting to see who the government of the day forms its alliances with to achieve its results and its mandate,” he said. “Saying that, if those coalitions are not in line with what our organization or other Western Canadian agricultural organizations see as the right direction, it will be challenging to make that direction and the positive steps that are required.”
Conservative candidates were elected in all rural Manitoba ridings, with the exception of the Churchill-Keewatinook Aski riding, which went back to the incumbent NDP. The trend was even more stark in Alberta and Saskatchewan. The maps turned blue Oct. 21 as both the Liberals and NDP were locked out of all rural ridings in both provinces.
The divide earned a mention in Trudeau’s victory remarks.
“To Canadians in Alberta and Saskatchewan, know that you are an essential part of our great country. I have heard your frustration and I want to be there to support you. Let us all work hard to bring our country together,” he said.
The Liberals drew criticism from Western Canadian farmers throughout their campaign, with producers attacking the party’s energy policies—policies distinctly unpopular in Alberta, where residents argued that they undermined the oil and gas industry. Farmers also expressed frustration with the federal carbon tax plan and ongoing trade issues, such as China’s continued suspension of Canadian canola, pork and beef, a saga that has been drawing on since March.
Local farmers took to social media to express dismay with the results, with some going as far as to suggest support for a separatist party, similar to the Bloc Québécois. Others called for reforms and more attention to western issues, including a second look at the country’s equalization payments.
“For the first time, I’m scared for the future of our farm. Not because we have millions of dollars of crop left out. We’ll get that and it will sort itself out. This Liberal government is going to cripple western Canada, small business, and agriculture in general,” Owen Orsak of Binscarth, Man., tweeted Oct. 21.
Campbell noted the “blue wave” of Conservative support across the Prairies, but said that KAP looks forward to working with the federal agriculture minister and will be “lobbying hard with all successful MPs to see if we can bring some glaring issues in agriculture,” to the fore.
Issues on the agenda
Both trade issues and risk management top that list, Campbell added.
Western Canada needs to see some movement on their current trade issues, Campbell said.
Campbell also called on the new government to prioritize an AgriStability overhaul and to add in more protection for young farmers.
“We’ve really got to come to terms with how our producers are protected through certain issues that are not the consequences of their actions, be it weather or be it trade,” he said.
Fifty per cent protection is not enough to maintain the sector, he argued, while crop insurance may leave crop uninsured in the field if a farmer has already met their production targets for crop insurance.
“What is left out on the landscape is the farmer’s own equity and that is what they need to pay their bills and if we are unable to pay our bills, what does the landscape of rural Manitoba look like?” he said.
Other farm groups have also weighed in on the results.
The Manitoba Canola Growers is still reeling from the loss of the Chinese market, previously a major customer of Canadian canola. The group is calling on the federal government to resolve that trade spat as soon as possible and will all possible means.
“We look forward to working with the new government to deal with issues that are vital to Manitoba canola growers,” the group said over email. “Currently farmers are facing an extremely challenging harvest, which combined with the current trade conditions is resulting in high levels of stress and financial hardship.
Manitoba Beef Producers also highlighted the need for business risk management programs as many of their own members fight through the impact of short feed. The group is also calling for supports on both drought and excess water management, research, trade opportunities, recognition for carbon sequestration and wildlife habitat in grasslands and solutions for labour shortages.
“Now that the campaign has concluded, Manitoba Beef Producers looks forward to the naming of new cabinet ministers, parliamentary committee assignments, and setting up meetings with parliamentarians to make progress on the key issues that matter to Manitoba’s 6,500 beef producers,” MBP president Tom Teichroeb said.
The Manitoba Pork Council, another industry hard hit by trade issues, was not available for comment.