Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Canadian Federal Election 2011 - Agriculture Debate with a Gulf Islands perspective

Elizabeth May might have been left out from the boys club, but the Greens were welcomed by the Canadian Federation of Agriculture who hosted the National Agriculture Leader's Debate on April 11 and held it live on their website (it can be seen at http://www.cfa-fca.ca/national-agriculture-leaders-debate-live) Conservative Minister of Agriculture Gerry Ritz, long time Liberal agriculture critic Wayne Easter, Pat Martin from the NDP (stepping in for Alex Atamanenko from BC who is the NDP agriculture critic), Andre Bellavance for the Bloc Quebecois, and Kate Storey for the Green Party presented their party platforms for agriculture and debated the issues.
The CFA was pleased to see food and agriculture part of each party platform. The CFA was especially pleased to hear several of the speakers agree on the importance for a National Food Strategy, which would be a long term plan for food and agriculture in Canada and something the CFA has been working on. The long term nature of the strategy is important to farmers and consumers, who have been demanding change in the food system.
The debate was a lot like a pot luck, as were all the debates. Something for everyone, with often the same ingredients in each dish, but a slightly different recipe. Some ideas were a little hard to swallow, or hard to digest. Others had great appeal to farmers. Questions were asked by farmers across Canada, via pre-recorded video. The questions were on topics drawn from the CFA membership, which represents farm organizations across Canada.
Gerry Ritz presented the Conservative “farmer first principles” which is primarily a trade-based, standard business approach to agriculture, which views Canada's strength in agriculture as an exporter of high quality commodity products, along with the stability of domestic supply management. The Conservative government have proposed $50 million in an Agricultural Innovation Initiative and $100 million to food safety. The Conservatives were criticized for their attempts at dismantling the Canadian Wheat Board. The other leaders did not see how supply management could stand at the WTO negotiations if the CWB single desk mandate was removed. Now, the Conservatives have stepped back on that issue and are only talking about having choice in marketing options for barley farmers. The Liberals also support trade initiatives, innovation and food safety but propose a ground-up approach involving farmers needs first, instead of trade obligations first. The Liberals and NDP both had well thought out long range food strategies, which acknowledge the role of food in both health and environmental policies, and recognize the importance of going beyond the five year plans proposed by the Conservatives. The Liberal strategy was adopted from a food and agriculture policy in this riding, and the NDP strategy was from BC's Alex Atamanenko's two year, 28 community trek across Canada interviewing 1000 farmers and citizens. The Green food platform is based on decentralized local, organic food with food exports only in emergency aid or fair trade situations and a goal of 85% food production to be domestic, instead of the current 80% for export. The Green strategy was revealed April 18, emphasizing that there would be no funding for biotechnology and no genetically modified organisms.
Of the farmers who asked questions across Canada, the one from BC would be of particular interest to farmers in the Gulf Islands. Gurinder Cheema is a teacher and farmer in the Fraser Valley. Her family has field crops and also grow greenhouse vegetables for BC Hothouse. Her farm has a creek with a species of fish that is part of a recovery strategy by DFO under the Species at Risk Act (SARA). According to Cheema, the riparian habitat was destroyed by the surrounding housing developments, not by the farms. The irony is that the farmers are doing a good job of protecting the habitat and are being asked to do more at their own cost. It is in society's interest for species and their habitat to be protected, so it was asked if the various parties propose to stand up for farmers and compensate them on any on-farm changes necessary to protect species at risk and their habitat, and do the parties propose to maintain and enhance the Environmental Farm Plans with financial incentives for ecological goods and services. All of the candidates agreed that farmers should not be asked to bear the costs of habitat protection and should be compensated. All were in support of the Environmental Farm Plan program.
It is tough to condense the complexities of farming into simple policy statements. So much of our agriculture is export oriented, such as our grain. This is on the opposite end of the spectrum from supply-managed milk, eggs and poultry, and direct-marketed local food, and complicates things at the federal level.
But what about the local level? So much of our agriculture in the Gulf Islands is local, and what federal policy changes could support local food? Support for Protected Geographical Indicators is one way – for unique local foods. There is work being done in this area across Canada, and there is one PGI for lamb in Quebec already.
But one little municipality in the US no bigger than most Gulf Islands has taken a stand for food sovereignty, at the local level, and has used federal and state statutes to support this initiative. The town of Sedgwick, Maine, population 1,012 said that how they produce food , process food, and distribute food locally is up to them and they have passed a Food Sovereignty ordinance. The ordinance allows buyer and seller to enter their own agreement which overrides state and federal regulations when dealing with transactions involving local foods Our local federal candidates, Gary Lunn (Conservative), Renee Hetherington (Liberal), Edith Loring-Kuhanga (NDP) and Elizabeth May (Green) all gave their support for local food at a  recent all candidates meeting.. Perhaps one of the changes we need at the federal level, is greater autonomy at the local level.

**Here is a link to a CBC podcast with four BC federal candidates (Ed Fast, Alex Atamanenko, Renee Hetherington and Brennan Wauters) discussing agricultural issues that concern farmers in BC  click on link and scroll 1/3 of the way into the podcast

No comments:

Post a Comment