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Editor’s Take: Lobby power

I’m sure at some point or another most farmers have felt their voice is never heard in public policy debates.

There’s a germ of truth to it, mainly because of the demographic realities. When less than two per cent of the population is a member of any particular group, they’re always going to struggle to be heard.

But that doesn’t mean farmers shouldn’t try. Because there are allies to be had out there, if you approach them just right. And it’s by having a unified message and seeking like-minded allies that progress will be made.

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Farmers got one example of exactly that this year at Ag Days, when the provincial government and Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation (MASC) announced some key changes to the crop insurance system.

When the changes were announced MASC’s David Van Deynze was very clear that farmers asking for the change were a big part of why they happened.

Likewise, farmers also saw the power of lobbying efforts when Bill C-49 (the Transport Modernization Act) was passed in 2018. It contained a virtual wish list of changes long sought by the agriculture sector and while there were minor amendments made, most of those changes survived furious lobbying efforts on the other side of the question.

Those who followed that process have long noted it was a clear example of the sector taking a new and more effective tack in its efforts.

Led by Pulse Canada, the agriculture sector, including producer groups, grain companies and other interested parties, sat down together well ahead of the process and hammered out where their common interests lay.

They then extended an invitation to other shippers — notably other bulk shippers like the mining industry — and further refined the effort by finding common cause with them.

Then, when the government began the consultation process, shippers were able to hone in on a key message, deliver it relentlessly, and in the end convince policy-makers to, at least in part, see things their way.

As our Alexis Stockford reports, another pressing issue is facing farmers that needs a concerted lobbying effort — carbon taxes on fuel for the grain dryer.

While fuel for the tractor or combine and heating for the barn isn’t subject to the tax, this is. And many feel that it’s a case of ‘adding insult to injury’ by ramping up farmers’ expenses during already challenging years. It heaps costs on, they point out, that farmers cannot then recoup by passing them on to buyers.

Marie-Claude Bibeau, the federal agriculture minister, has said she wants to make the case for an exemption to her federal cabinet colleagues. That, she’s said, will require facts and figures, rather than emotion, which she’s asked for help gathering from farm organizations and the provinces.

Here in Manitoba the Pallister government and the province’s general farm organization, the Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP), have both picked up this banner.

As Stockford reports in her story, the premier highlighted grain drying as part of the larger carbon tax tussle he’s been engaged in with Ottawa over the past few years.

Either he, or his advisers, also came up with a line of reasoning the sector would do well to further push out to the general public — that grain drying is a necessary activity and one that’s ordinarily avoided at all costs already.

When it comes to a unifying message the sector could do worse than ‘Nobody dries grain for fun.’

For KAP’s part, it was asking farmers to come to its booth at Ag Days and bring their fuel bills for the grain dryer. That would help to accumulate the hard data necessary to building a case for the exemption.

The group is continuing that effort post-Ag Days, including asking members attending their annual meeting Feb. 4 and 5 in Winnipeg to share that information with the organization.

There’s also at least some evidence that the case for this change could be heard sympathetically in the country as a whole.

Even federal Green Party of Canada Agriculture Critic Kate Storey weighed in on the issue calling for an exemption.

The most powerful part of her argument was noting, correctly, that carbon taxes are intended to change behaviour, but in this case, there is no alternative behaviour, save leaving crops to rot in the field or bin.

Another part of her argument that made sense was funding research into making grain drying more efficient, which would give farmers another, better, alternative.

Another policy worth promoting might be to provide tax incentives or rebates to encourage farmers to purchase newer and more efficient dryers, much like Manitoba Hydro’s home heating program.

A solution to this problem exists, finding it starts by asking for it, in a unified way.

About the author

Editor

Gord Gilmour is Editor of the Manitoba Co-operator.

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