Opinion: Conservative front-runners both ag supporters

There are, however, important policy distinctions between Peter MacKay and Erin O’Toole

A new leader of the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) is expected to be crowned in August.

For non-members of the party, this news might be easy to miss. COVID-19-related news has dominated headlines for months and it has been easy to disregard the leadership race that could determine who will be Canada’s next prime minister.

The two names to watch are Peter MacKay and Erin O’Toole. Both have offered support for agriculture, and their platforms are fairly similar to one another – but the differences are worth noting.

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First, the similarities.

Both commit to eliminating the carbon tax and opening up new markets.

MacKay commits to leading trade missions to “regain lost export markets” and says he will “work to ensure that the USMCA (also knowns as CUSMA) does not prohibit trade growth for Canadian dairy producers.”

O’Toole, meanwhile, says he will open up new markets, “for our livestock, grain and oilseed producers in our free trade negotiations.”

During the last CPC leadership race in 2017, agriculture became a focal point for candidates as a debate raged over support for supply management. While Maxime Bernier’s free market ideals and commitment to phase the system out had support from many members, he ultimately came in second during that race.

This time around, the debate over the future of supply management appears firmly closed, with MacKay joining O’Toole in vowing to protect the system. Despite Bernier gaining traction on the matter in 2017, anyone who doesn’t voice a commitment to keeping supply management is likely committing political suicide.

Both commit to supporting more agricultural research. Both commit to ensuring an easier intergenerational transfer of family farms, although MacKay’s commitment is more specific in how he would accomplish doing so.

The two are more or less the same on these big issues, but now to the differences.

MacKay is offering a lofty – and perhaps undeliverable – package of supports to producers.

“We can begin by removing the obstacles that have hampered the agri-food industry such as grain backlogs, rail strikes, illegal blockades, punitive tax policies, export limitations and regulations that are based on politics rather than science,” reads his website.

It remains unclear how any prime minister can alter bad weather, legal strikes or decisions being made in other countries… but at least his enthusiasm shows a basic understanding of the issues facing Canadian farmers.

O’Toole commits to making sure farm safety net programs are “predictable, bankable and manageable.”

Given the constant concerns over the current suite of business risk management programs, this could score O’Toole some major points, although it is likely MacKay is also on board with reforms given the grievances held by producers and the prominence the issue has had in recent years.

O’Toole offers slightly more detail on a few other measures, too. He says he would amend existing laws in order to allow livestock owners to use local slaughterhouses. He also commits to implementing a food security strategy that would work with private industry to develop ways of growing more groups year round using greenhouses and build “clusters of greenhouses.”

That program would also reassess all federal regulations concerning the labelling of food products to ensure the country of origin is clearly identified.

Producers – particularly those who are members of the CPC and can vote for the leader – should personally evaluate the platforms and information available on each candidate’s website.

About the author

Reporter

D.C. Fraser

D.C. Fraser is Glacier FarmMedia’s Ottawa-based reporter. Growing up mostly in Alberta, Fraser also lived in Saskatchewan for ten years where he covered politics, including a stint teaching at the University of Regina’s School of Journalism. He is an avid fan of the outdoors and a pretty good beer league hockey player. His passion for agriculture and agri-food policy comes naturally: Six consecutive generations of his family have worked in the industry.

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