Throne speech light on details for farmers

“We will invest billions of dollars in renewable energy sources, including biofuels, wind, solar, geothermal and tidal power.”

– Prime Minister Stephen Harper

Agriculture got more mention than usual in the throne speech and the first remarks by Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the start of the new Parliament last week, but with scant few details.

The throne speech, delivered Nov. 19 by Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean, promised ongoing government support for the farm sector as well as continued work to ensure Prairie barley growers could market outside the Canadian Wheat Board.

Harper followed up the next day with more broad promises aimed at farmers and rural residents.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty will make an economic statement during the last week of November that may provide more clues to the government’s intentions, although facing a spending deficit and lots of calls for help may limit how much financial assistance it can provide to any sector.

Dairy and poultry groups welcomed the throne speech’s promise to continue protecting import controls, producer pricing and production discipline in international trade talks.

“This strong statement is particularly encouraging in light of recent reports that a ministerial-level meeting may be called by the World Trade Organization in December to again attempt to reach agreement on a new world trade deal,” the groups said.

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture, meanwhile, said it was disappointed by the absence of details from the throne speech. “In particular, farmers would have liked to see more information on two primary Conservative election promises: a new agricultural flexibility program and the two-cent reduction in diesel excise tax,” said Ron Bonnett, the CFA’s second vice-president. “We’ve received numerous inquiries from farmers on these proposals.”

Farmers’ decision

Bonnett, a cattle producer from Algoma, Ont., reiterated the CFA’s position that farmers, “not government, should have the decision on whether they wish to market grain through a single desk, such as the Canadian Wheat Board, or an open-market system.”

The CFA welcomed support for the government’s plan to boost competitiveness and expand market opportunities through research, innovation and increased international trade.

“On climate change, farmers were encouraged to hear the government stress the importance of establishing a cap-and-trade system that corresponds to carbon offset systems of the United States, Europe and other industrialized countries,” said Laurent Pellerin, CFA’s first vice-president. “As well, farmers welcome plans for continued support of biofuels and other forms of renewable energy.”

In his speech, Harper said the government will invest in slaughterhouse capacity and also push ahead with proposals for strengthening food safety.

“We will also launch an independent investigation of the listeria outbreak this past August and we will implement the food safety action plan, which will provide the Canadian Food Inspection Agency with the necessary personnel and resources to improve safety systems.”

Harper promised the listeria inquiry in September but there’s no word on when it might begin. It is due to report by March.

“We are also working to complete Canada’s broadband Internet network, so Canadians in rural communities will have equal access to cyberspace. As well, to further ensure equal opportunities for all Canadians, our government will restore the funding to Canada’s three major regional economic development agencies, funding that was cut by our predecessors.”

The government will push ratification of new free trade deals while pursuing agreements in Asia, the Americas and Europe, he said. “And we will continue expanding our network of overseas trade offices in countries such as China, Mongolia, Mexico, Brazil and India, developing countries whose economies continue to have healthy levels of economic growth.”

The government wants the bulk of Canada’s electricity to come from green sources by 2020, Harper said. “We will invest billions of dollars in renewable energy sources, including biofuels, wind, solar, geothermal and tidal power.”

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