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Provincial parties talk vision for agriculture ahead of election

Ahead of releasing official agricultural platforms, the parties talk trade, rural health care, African swine fever, and climate change

With campaign season officially in full swing for the provincial election, the Manitoba Co-operator caught up with the parties to talk agriculture.

The parties we spoke to all polled regularly above five per cent for the past year.

All parties had plenty to say about their vision for agriculture in Manitoba, bridging the rural/urban divide, and protecting and growing the sector.

Minister of Agriculture Ralph Eichler spoke on behalf of the Progressive Conservative party, party leader, Dougald Lamont spoke for the Liberals, Agriculture Critic Kate Storey commented on behalf of the Green Party, and party leader, Wab Kinew provided a written statement on behalf of the New Democratic Party.

Manitobans go to the polls on September 10.

What is your party’s vision for agriculture?

PC | Eichler said his party’s vision is quite simple — more value added and fiscally sustainable farms.

The PC party is looking for ways to process more products in Manitoba, said Eichler. He added that additions like the Roquette pea-processing plant near Portage la Prairie is “critically important” for the province and farm families.

NDP | “Our vision for agriculture includes pressuring the federal government to protect producers and helping young farmers start and maintain a successful business,” said Kinew.

Kinew said he was disappointed that “Brian Pallister failed to stand up for canola and pork producers whose livelihoods have been put at risk by global trade uncertainty.” He also cited changes to Crown land leases, which he said made it harder for younger producers to be successful.

Liberal | “We want to make sure that people can make a living and that we’re producing high-quality products that are affordable,” said Lamont.

Lamont said the province should focus on producing premium products to achieve better returns.

“If we start focusing on special markets or markets where we have a premium product, we can charge a premium price, which means better returns for the province,” said Lamont.

He also said he was looking for more local, value-added production in Manitoba, and more meaningful risk-management supports for farmers.

Green | The Green Party’s vision is that Manitoba agriculture would be fiscally and environmentally sustainable, said Storey. Long term, she said, this includes more farm families operating more diversified farms using sustainable, regenerative practices. These farms would be supported by vibrant small towns and provide good jobs while protecting the environment for our grandchildren, Storey said.

The Green Party defines agricultural success “by measuring the well-being of farm families and rural communities,” said Storey, adding that the province should look beyond commodity export statistics.

How would your party protect and grow agriculture?

PC | The government’s job is to create a business environment conducive to business and to getting paid, said Eichler. He said this includes working toward good trade relationships, as volatile markets due to fraught trade relationships with countries like China have hit farmers hard lately.

“My job is to ensure that we do continue to build on those relationships,” Eichler said.

When asked about preparing for a potential outbreak of African swine fever, Eichler said the right steps are in place. They’ve consulted on a national level and worked hand in hand with the federal government. He believes the current zoning plan is the right thing to do.

“It’s a large part of our conversation,” he said.

NDP | “We are committed to a future for Manitoba producers that ensures young people can continue to farm,” said Kinew.

Kinew said his top agricultural priority would be to form an emergency task force to find and develop new international markets for canola, pork and other products.

On ASF, Kinew said that in the event of an outbreak, his government would “immediately begin working with producers, veterinarians and public health experts to mitigate the disease’s spread and do everything possible to protect farmers and their families from economic consequences.”

Liberal | Lamont said his party would develop a Manitoba business and development bank. He said the bank would help businesses and farmers, especially young farmers, to access capital to expand their businesses. He said this would include equity, not just loans.

On August 8, the Liberals pledged to develop a publicly owned Manitoba Business Development Bank which would “provide investments in growth-focused Manitoba businesses, including startups, scale-ups, co-ops, social enterprise, and farming,” according to a news release.

Lamont also touted the need for more value-added processing in the province.

“If we have that, then we’re more likely to have customers in Manitoba for producers,” said Lamont. “Greater local production is a way to ensure that producers have a backup market so we’re not overly dependent on a single market.”

Regarding the threat of ASF, Lamont said, “We have to be incredibly vigilant — we have to double down.” He said this included working closely with the federal government, ensuring adequate support for inspectors, and comprehensive surveillance.

Green | “In a word, we would diversify,” said Storey. She said the Green Party has a vision to diversify farms, exports, food production, livestock and crops.

Part of the Greens’ platform includes working to diversify market opportunities and supply more of Manitoba’s domestic food needs with local food. Storey said Manitoba’s winters prevent the province from competing on price with high-volume, low-price producers. We can compete on quality, she said.

Storey also spoke about the need to diversify to protect against disease outbreaks like ASF, which she said are a product of monocultures.

“All the Green Party can suggest is that governments recognize the dangers of monocultures and protect diversity,” said Storey, adding that this includes diversity of crops and livestock breeds. “Diversity is the only way to protect yourself from disease.”

Storey also promised support for younger farmers, especially those who don’t have a family farm to take over. This includes developing a “land bank” that would connect older farmers selling land to younger people in search of land to farm.

How would your party address the rural/urban divide?

PC | Eichler said this would be further addressed when the PC party releases its platform.

“We have been very successful to date,” he said, but added there is still more to do and he will wait to hear what Manitobans want to charge them to do, post-election.

“Farming’s not for the faint of heart,” Eichler said. He said farmers need programs in place, and the right products in place to help them be fiscally sustainable.

NDP | “The NDP understands that all Manitoba families want the same thing: to be able to achieve their hopes and dreams and experience the best life has to offer,” said Kinew. “That shouldn’t depend on a person’s postal code.”

Kinew cited his plan “for all of us,” which would end health-care cuts brought in by the Pallister government, and would invest in students.

The NDP official platform, released August 8, promised numerous investments in education, including a cap on kindergarten to Grade 3 class sizes, and bringing in an ACCESS Bursary for rural, Indigenous and northern post-secondary students.

Liberal | “We fundamentally recognize that both education and health care are essential to the economy,” said Lamont. “For people who are looking to invest in a small town, or in rural Manitoba, they want to know that there’s a doctor nearby, or a hospital nearby, and that there’s schools nearby for their kids to go to. This is absolutely essential.”

Lamont said the party’s focus would be on getting care closer to home, and he slammed the NDP and PC approach to health care, which he said had shut down rural hospitals and clinics.

On July 14, the Liberals announced a plan to merge regional health authorities with Manitoba Health. In a news release, the party said this would restore decision-making ability to the local level.

In late June, the Liberals also pledged to reverse what they called a freeze on health-care spending, according to a news release, and promised to “move aggressively” to fill vacancies.

Green | “We really want to restore health care in rural Manitoba,” said Storey. “Rural Manitobans should not have to travel to Winnipeg to see a specialist for five minutes for a checkup.”

Storey said that while rural hospitals may be more expensive to operate, today’s technology should be able to fill gaps. For example, she said, a nurse practitioner could sit with a patient and speak to a specialist in the city over video chat.

“The system has just abandoned rural Manitobans,” said Storey. “That’s got to change.”

What is your position on plant protein in the province?

PC | “I think we’ll be looked at as the protein supplier of choice,” said Eichler. He called the Roquette pea protein-processing plant an advantage for Manitoba.

NDP | “We know important investments in plant protein are being made in Manitoba and one important way of supporting these investments is by keeping hydro rates low and making real investments in infrastructure in Manitoba,” said Kinew.

Liberal | “We have an opportunity to build on some strengths,” said Lamont. He touted the need to invest in research in order to have researchers on site, near where the crops are grown.

Green | “We really would like to have an expanded market for protein, for peas, for soybeans,” said Storey. “I think there is a lot for Manitoba farmers to gain from increasing the processing capacity for plant proteins in Manitoba.”

Storey cautioned against flooding the market, but added that legumes are assets to regenerative agriculture because of their use in intercropping.

How should Manitoba tackle climate change?

PC | Eichler said climate issues are currently in federal hands, citing the conflict between Manitoba and the feds over the carbon tax.

NDP | “The NDP values agricultural contributions to combating climate change and protecting lakes and rivers and will consult and work with producers to meet this important challenge. We need to take real, meaningful steps to help solve the climate crisis while keeping life affordable for regular families and helping them to make greener choices,” said Kinew.

Liberal | Lamont cited the Liberal’s green plan, released early in May. According to a news release, this plan aims to make Manitoba carbon neutral by 2030. The plan includes renegotiating the province’s climate plan with the federal government, investing in clean energy, and using agricultural practices to absorb more carbon dioxide.

Green | “We support farmers who want to transition to organic, those who want to bring in regenerative farming practices, develop plans to put more, to improve the soil by capturing carbon,” said Storey.

She said the Green Party would encourage the use of regenerative agriculture practices, and to generate their own, renewable energy through things like solar power.

About the author

Reporter

Geralyn Wichers grew up on a hobby farm near Anola, Manitoba, where her family raised cattle, pigs and chickens. Geralyn graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in 2019 and was previously a reporter for The Carillon in Steinbach. Geralyn is also a published author of science fiction and fantasy novels.

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