Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Food on the Political Radar?

Jets, jails, and now G-20 spending will obviously dominate tonight's leadership debate,  and coffee shop election discussion. Agriculture, and food are on par with the difficult issues facing First Nation communities. Like Shawn Atleo, the First Nations National Chief did yesterday, farm organizations feel they have to be proactive in bringing their concerns into the political debate.

You wouldn't know it in Eastern Canada, but there was a debate on agriculture issues in Ottawa yesterday between Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, Liberal Agriculture Critic Wayne Easter,  Pat Martim of the NDP, Andre Bellevance of the Bloq, and Kate Story of the Greens.  Most of the reporting that I could find was from regional papers in farming areas in Western Canada.

The parties themselves are offering a more fully developed agriculture policy, with some parties  talking more about food, than farming. 

Jessica Leeder of the Globe and Mail has done some good analysis of the differences in agriculture policy between the various parties.


And the promises reflect the regional strengths of the different parties. The Conservatives are sticking to an export oriented farm policy because that's what drives farming in Western Canada. The huge U.S. market for grains and livestock has always been the holy grail for farmers there, and it's one of the reasons Maritime livestock farmers have had so much trouble getting financial help from the Federal government. Western farmers don't want any kind of trade issue to come up to disrupt trade between the two countries.

The Liberals have put more effort to develop a national food policy than it ever has before. Liberals say local food production must be given better support by more rigorous inspection on imported foods to make sure it meets the same safety standards as Canadian products. The Liberals say Canadians health is at risk because of the huge growth  in processed food on the shelves, and the party wants to expand the use of public support for environmentally sustainable food production.

The NDP have a thoroughly developed farm/food policy as well that emphasizes food security and sovereignty, more farmers markets, regional food networks, and a willingness to look at the impact of trade deals on Canadian farmers.

The Greens are big on food sovereignty too, promoting the idea of the "200 kilometer"  diet, expanding the idea of local a little wider.  It wants to see much more support for organic farming, and a better link to using agriculture to soak up greenhouse gasses.

It's not getting much attention in the national media, but this is by far the richest array of farm/food policies that have ever been on offer.

And just to irritate Canada's business columnists, all the parties have said they will continue to support supply management in dairy, poultry and egg production. Of course Stephen Harper only mentions this in Quebec, but he did say it.

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