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Elections and the value of showing up

If farmers don’t speak, it will be others, who may not understand our industry, who decide who goes to Ottawa

farmers watching sunset

There is an old saying in politics, “policy is set by those who show up.” Not always those with the best and brightest ideas and not even always a majority. The first and most important step on the road to being an influencer is to show up.

Canadians will elect a new House of Commons Oct. 19 when 338 will take their place in the House of Commons, supported by an army of volunteers and elected by those who show up to vote.

The next federal government will have a lot to say about what happens on your farm. Farm organizations will work to nudge ministers in the right direction after the election, but the campaign is the most effective time to influence future agricultural policy. And individual farmers are most effective at wielding that influence.

How does an individual make a difference? By getting involved — by showing up. For example, every riding is almost certainly going to have all-candidates meetings (if your riding does not have some scheduled, organize one). Don’t just attend these sessions, but go prepared to fight for the future of agriculture.

Don’t assume that your candidates understand the importance of agriculture to your community and the Canadian economy, even if you are in a rural riding. Nor can you assume that each of the candidates understands the key issues facing agriculture today. Direct involvement by farmers across the country will help ensure this understanding. This applies to both your local candidates and, through them, the national campaigns.

What are some of the policies that matter to agriculture? I would like to suggest three key areas of focus — trade, technology and science-based regulations.

Do the people who want to be your member of Parliament understand how much your farm depends on international markets? Sustainable profitability for Canadian grains, oilseed and special crops farmers depends on reliable access to markets around the world. You deserve to know what your future member of Parliament will do to keep markets open as well as develop new opportunities for Canadian farmers.

Future profitability also depends on research and innovation. What are your candidates saying about creating an environment where Canada is the first choice for investment in research and development? Do candidates have ideas on how to encourage broad research partnerships between producers, governments and private companies? The answers to these questions could determine if Canada is a leader in innovation, or if we fall behind and yield the field to our competitors.

Support for science-based regulations goes hand in hand with support for innovation and assuring access to markets. Modern Canadian agriculture depends on clear and predictable science-based regulations for the crop input tools you use, from seed to fertilizer and other crop inputs.

The alternative to science-based regulations are those based on popular opinion or the latest fad on the Internet. Politicians face pressure from many who don’t appreciate the science behind today’s sustainable agricultural practices.

We see this manifested in regional regulations that override the science-based decisions of Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency and limit farmers’ access to up-to-date crop inputs. Ask candidates if they will work to have science-based rules for agriculture built into every trade agreement in order to preserve our market access.

What happens if the next Government of Canada affirms the science-based approach? Those who invest in research and development will see Canada as a safe place to conduct research. They will look to invest here rather than in our competitors’ backyards, giving Canadian farmers an innovation advantage.

Canada’s strong science-based regulatory environment also gives us a strong platform to negotiate international agreements that limits importing countries’ ability to use their own regulations as a tool to block trade. Farmers win on all counts.

These are just three key policy areas that are important for the future of agriculture. There are likely more issues that could be explored. The most important thing is to push candidates to support agriculture. Now is the time to get involved. If farmers don’t speak it will be others, who may not understand our industry, who will influence those who will be going to Ottawa on our behalf. Your voice matters. Let it be heard.

Cam Dahl, is president of Cereals Canada

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