Representatives from Canada’s main parties met Wednesday to discuss agricultural policy ranging from risk management to transportation and rural infrastructure ahead of the Canadian federal election. But the hot button issue of the debate was supply management.
As the debate was unfolding at the Château Laurier in Ottawa, leaders from the 12 Pacific Rim countries were meeting to discuss the Trans Pacific Partnership in Atlanta, Georgia. The day before farmers drove a convoy of tractors in downtown Ottawa to protest the potential implications of the trade deal.
Supply management is a set of policies that control the price of milk, cheese, eggs and poultry in Canada through marketing boards. The TPP would put that system at risk if negotiated to increase access for other countries into the Canadian market.
Other trade-focused groups are generally in favour of implementing the deal.
Agri-Food critic and NDP party member Malcolm Allen began and ended the debate by saying his party has unequivocal support for supply management.
He continued to ask Conservative agriculture minister Gerry Ritz why domestic markets are on the table in international trade agreements.
“Everything is on the table at the beginning,” said Ritz.
Ritz went on to say that if TPP final negotiations make any concessions to supply management that farmers would be compensated accordingly, leaving “zero impact on producers at the end of the day.”
Ritz was further challenged by Bloc Quebecois representative Yves Lessard who said Conservatives were sacrificing a piece of supply management with each trade deal.
Green Party member, Andrew West said the TPP doesn’t benefit farmers on any level.
“Simply put this hurts farmers.”
As for transportation within Canada, the Conservatives, NDPs and the Green Party touched on the importance of transportation infrastructure, especially to Prairie farmers.
Infrastructure in rural communities is lacking, making it difficult for western Canadian farmers to move production from the farm to processors, Allen said.
“The NDP is going to stand up to railway companies.”
The Green Party plans to fund transportation infrastructure by cutting subsidies to oil sands.
Ritz briefly touched on rural investment, saying the Conservative government plans on supporting it through better broadband access, roads and ports.
Mark Eyking, Liberal Party representative, said the party plans on working directly with farmers to develop plans that work for then, especially in research and agribusiness sectors.
Drought in Western Canada means farmers are going to want to trigger risk management programs, he said.
The Liberals plan to fund research and programs that would help with market volatility, saying the current government doesn’t do enough to help farmers, citing Conservative government cuts to the AgriStability program.
“Every other developed country helps farmers when they’re in need,” he said.
Allen said he has heard farmers complain about AgriStability, and that their dislike is founded.
He said the NDP would sit down with farmers and see what they need, and build a program beyond bureaucracy.