Perth-Wellington candidates discuss agriculture policy at Listowel debate

Ag debate pic
2015 Listowel Fair Ambassador Lana Kraus asks the candidates how they would support young farmers.
By Dan Rankin
Driving from St. Marys to Listowel, one passes through a fair number of hamlets and villages – Avonton, Sebringville, Wartburg, Rostock, Monkton, Newry, and Atwood. It was the rural residents of places like this, and not the city dwellers of Stratford, who were receiving the attention of Perth-Wellington’s federal candidates at the debate held Tuesday evening at the Listowel Agricultural Society hall.
On stage discussing agriculture policy, as well as a number of other issues including employment, the economy and the Middle East refugee crisis, were Conservative Party candidate John Nater, Independent candidate Roger Fuhr, Green Party candidate Nicole Ramsdale, Christian Heritage Party candidate Irma DeVries, and Liberal Party candidate Stephen McCotter. One question asked how candidates would ensure agriculture received sufficient funding for research and innovation. Nater stood behind his party’s record of investing millions in agriculture through programs such as Agri-Innovation, and said federal funding is coming to the riding in the form of a $3 million “contribution to the dairy research facility in Elora.” He called it a “great facility for undertaking groundbreaking research in the dairy industry.”
Ramsdale said a Green Party priority would be to invest in food testing to “make sure the food that’s being put on people’s tables is safe for the people that are eating it,” while Fuhr said, if research is warranted in certain areas, he would do his best “to advocate on behalf of Perth-Wellington voters in Ottawa.”
McCotter took the opportunity to criticize the federal government for the last 10 years, during which time it has “gut” science and technology research and “muzzled scientists to the point where they’re not allowed to talk about their research.” He described how a Liberal government would “start working more collaboratively with Ontario.”
“This Prime Minister has taken care of Alberta and Quebec and abandoned Ontario,” he said.
In both the opening statements and in a written question that followed, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the potential impact it may have on farmers in supply managed sectors was also a popular topic of conversation.
Nater was quick to point out in his opening statements that a CBC report claiming as much as 10 percent of Canada’s domestic dairy market could be opened to American producers through the TPP was “false.”
“Our trade minister has been very clear that no such concessions have been made,” he said. “Negotiations are still ongoing and nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to. Our party has been very clear in our commitment to supply management.”
He went on to underscore the importance of Canada’s participation at the negotiations taking place in Atlanta. “TPP countries represent 40 percent of the world economy,” he said. “Billions of dollars in trade have been predicted for the beef, pork and grain sector. It could be such an important benefit to those industries.”
While all the candidates were uniform in their support of supply management, some of Nater’s opponents questioned Canada’s participation in the TPP talks, and even the constitutionality of taking part in such talks during an election.
“The agreement would require major changes to a wide range of issues including Canadian copyright law, patent law, and supply management protections,” DeVries said. “These changes would involve significant legislative reforms, with enormous costs to health care, education and the agriculture sector. Agreeing to these changes when acting as a caretaker government would appear to violate the requirement to restrict activities to routine or non-controversial matters.”
Ramsdale and McCotter were both wary of concessions being made during trade talks. “We think it’s important to make sure Canadians are drinking Canadian milk, using Canadian products; that is absolutely key,” Ramsdale said. “We have some of the safest food and we need to protect that and keep it safe.”
McCotter said, while trade is important, for him, “supply management, safe food and food sovereignty outweigh trade.”
“If given the opportunity to push back on the TPP, we would do it,” he said.
Answering a question on how he would help farmers improve their incomes, Nater expressed his opposition to a carbon tax, saying it would introduce extra costs on “absolutely everything.”
“Our government is firmly opposed to a carbon tax or a cap and trade system because of the costs it would drive up for consumers in every single sector of the economy, but especially the agricultural sector,” he said.
Responding to a question from 2015 Listowel Fair Ambassador Lana Kraus on supporting young farmers, McCotter said it wasn’t just in agriculture where young people are having trouble finding work. “The unemployment rate under 25 is 13.1 percent, which is three times that of people over 25,” he said. “I read 1-in-6 students couldn’t find a job this past summer. Youth employment is a massive issue, whether it’s farming or in any sector.”
The Liberal Party is committed to unfreezing federal funding for youth employment programs, he said. “Our commitment is to $1.3 billion over the next three years – $300 million of that is for youth employment strategy that will create 40,000 jobs each year over the next three years.”