Candidates in Manitoba s provincial election risked eating their words earlier this month, at a debate on food-related election issues in downtown Winnipeg.
Troy Osiname, Liberal candidate for Seine River, Gord Mackintosh, NDP candidate for St. Johns and Kelvin Goertzen, Progressive Conservative candidate for Steinbach fielded questions from Food Matters Manitoba and members of the public during a two-hour debate on topics ranging from the Canadian Wheat Board to food banks and hog barns.
In many ways, it s a difficult time to be a farmer, Goertzen told the audience. They more than ever feel that they are under attack.
The Tory candidate described agriculture as a pillar of Manitoba s economy, but asserted that 8,000 farmers have lost their jobs or left the industry due to hardship. He said new research initiatives and policies supporting value-added products need to be developed to maintain a healthy agricultural industry.
Goer tzen said di rect ion on where government funding goes needs to come from farmers themselves, through what he described as the reopening of communicat ion lines.
However, Mackintosh said the real breakdown in communications has occurred at the federal level.
Farmers are under attack, because your party is not standing up for them, countered Mackintosh, calling on Goertzen s Progressive Conservatives to join the NDP s fight to maintain the CWB as a single-desk marketing board. He said the loss of single-desk marketing will not only hurt Manitoba farmers, but will also harm Winnipeg and the Port of Churchill.
Mackintosh noted the results of the CWB plebiscite released September 12th showed the majority of farmers favour a single-desk marketing system.
Liberal candidate Osiname also expressed support for a single-desk system.
However, Goertzen rebutted those remarks and said efforts to reverse the federal government s decision represent a misuse of government funding that would have been better spent on food programs for schools or other initiatives.
Partisan quips faded as the debate moved onto innovative Manitoba food products, with Mackintosh touting the unique cheese of the Trappist Monks and Goertzen making a case for Bothwell Cheese.
Political newcomer Osiname, founder of the non-profit organization, Community Vibes, used the debate to promote the Liberal party s vision of greater partnerships between farmers, businesses and community organizations to aid in making healthy food more accessible to Manitobans living in poverty. He also stressed the need to assist northern residents, who face higher prices and scarce fresh produce.
Osiname also said facilitating more urban gardens would assist in generating food closer to home, and possibly pro vide more jobs through market gardening.
However, when it came to a question about the affect of the hog barn moratorium on producers, Osiname was stumped.
I don t know too much of what you speak of to be honest, he said, adding he would look into the issue and post a position on his website.
Goertzen responded by referring to the Save Lake Winnipeg Act introduced by the NDP and supported by the PC party, saying it ended the hog barn moratorium, allowing new development that meets certain standards. He added future regulations must be developed on a sound scientific basis.
However, in an open letter published in theWinnipeg Free Pressthis summer, hog producers and their supporters describe the act as expanding the hog barn moratorium to all corners of the province.
Mackintosh noted the Save Lake Winnipeg Act builds on previous legislation restricting the expansion of hog barns in the south and Interlake, but said protecting Manitoba s water goes beyond hog producers.
Hog production is part of the answer, but only part of it, he emphasized, adding cities, municipalities, industry and citizens all have roles to play.
All candidates broached the issue of healthy food as a way to reduce stress on health-care systems and better manage chronic diseases like diabetes.
I think we have to do a better job of being in schools and implementing healthy choices, healthy living, said Osiname.
Mackintosh also pointed to eduction, but said continuing to increase the minimum wage is also important part of ensuring families can afford healthy food.
In addition to promoting education, candidates also urged consumers to be vocal in demanding made in Manitoba products.
I think it is going to be consumers that are really going to have to drive this, said Goertzen.
The debate was the first of it s kind in Manitoba, drawing a few dozen people to the downtown caf where it was held.
I think the candidates spoke to a lot of the key issues that we wanted to talk about, said Stefan Epp of Food Matters Manitoba. When we look at this election, food might not come up as the top priority for Manitobans, they might talk about the economy or health care, but food relates directly to all these key issues people care about.
Epp added the event was aimed at an urban audience, but that many farmers also expressed interest despite being unable to attend. In response Food Matters Manitoba broadcast the debate online. shannon. [email protected]
Ithinkwehaveto doabetterjobof beinginschoolsand implementinghealthy choices,healthyliving.