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CFA pushes ag agenda for coming election

The group wants to draw attention to the agri-food sector in the looming federal campaign

With a federal election looming the CFA is trying to push agriculture up the agenda.

With an eye-catching button and a pledge for politicians to sign, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture has kicked off its Producing Prosperity in Canada initiative. It aims to make it into a key talking point during the October federal election campaign.

Producing Prosperity is aimed at building political support in all parties for policies that help foster continued growth in the agri-food sector and raise public awareness of the industry’s economic importance to Canada, CFA president Mary Robinson said.

Mary Robinson. photo: CFA

“Over the coming months we are looking forward to meeting hundreds of political candidates and officials as we move toward the federal election,” Robinson told a Parliament Hill news conference. “Our goal is to convince government to treat agri-food policies as a national priority, regardless of whether they represent rural or urban ridings.”

The initiative will be looking for farmers and others in the agri-food sector to carry its message to candidates in the election and convince them to sign a pledge to support policies that advance farming and food production.

Supporters will be given white badges with the Prosperity logo banner on them and a colourful one-page collection of graphs that show the economic contribution, food security and environmental stewardship contributions of the sector.

Keith Currie, president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture and CFA first vice-president, said the initiative is based on a similar effort in last year’s Ontario election.

“It’s a real opportunity for the industry to tell its story and make sure it’s understood by politicians and the public,” he said.

The campaign isn’t taking sides in the election as it contacts incumbent MPs as well as candidates to make sure they understand the big picture of agri-food as the second-largest employer in Canada, he said.

Robinson said it will also stress the sector’s role in assuring food security for Canadians as well as being an engine of the economy and an innovative contributor to national environmental stewardship.

CFA had meetings scheduled with 50 MPs after the news conference and it and its provincial member organizations will arrange sessions with other MPs and candidates to talk about the importance of agri-food, she said.

While Robinson and other CFA speakers focused on the initiative, Robinson said the canola impasse with China “is on our minds.” The government needs to be thinking about offering additional support to help canola growers. The $400,000 limit under the Advance Payment Program (APP) hasn’t been changed in a decade, she noted.

“We need to give farmers some sense of security and show them they have the backing of the government,” she said. The end of April deadline for seeking help from the APP should be extended given the situation facing the canola producers.

“We can’t go into the growing season with this level of uncertainty.”

The message of the Prosperity initiative is well known within the agri-food sector, thanks to the Barton Report and agri-food strategy report. The challenge is getting the rest of the country to understand it.

Robinson said agri-food generated $112 billion in GDP in 2016, and between 2012 and 2016 overall growth of the sector was 11 per cent compared to 7.8 per cent across the entire economy. The industry employs 2.3 million Canadian jobs or one of every eight jobs in the country making it the second-largest employer in the country. Canada produces twice as much food as it consumes, and is well positioned to benefit from increasing domestic and global food demand.

“Farmers feed the world, which makes the agriculture industry arguably recession proof,” she said. “For economic, food security and environmental reasons we firmly believe the Producing Prosperity in Canada campaign possesses the key ingredients for national support. A robust national agri-food industry will benefit all Canadians.”

There was no immediate reaction from other agri-food organizations to the CFA action because they haven’t been contacted about the plan, officials said.

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