The excitement of the federal election behind us, we have to wonder what the impact will be on agriculture in Canada. With a majority government, the Conservatives will be able to meet their goals with apparent ease – which does not bode well for the Canadian Wheat Board, or maybe even supply management. Although the government has maintained its support for supply management through the world trade negotiations, many wonder how long that will last. There have been attempts by the Conservatives to dismantle the Canadian Wheat Board in the past and with a majority government it is generally thought that this will become a reality. Opponents to this argue that the farmer-led board and the farmer members should be deciding the fate of the CWB. The Conservative emphasis on trade and markets will benefit Canada's farmers who export their products and those farmers who appreciate the businesslike certainty of a Conservative majority. The scrapping of the long gun registry was an election promise that was made to rural farmers and ranchers who maintain that guns are important to predator control, and the Conservatives argue the registry was too expensive to justify.
With an NDP opposition, supported by the few Liberals and Bloc who were elected, and the lone Green MP from home, there will be a voice for food security for our nation, the importance of local and regional food economies, and a merging of agricultural needs with the health and environmental needs of Canadians. Hopefully this voice will be unified, strong and convincing so that the Conservative government will move forward in a positive direction.
The real work will be done by those members of parliament who focus on the agriculture portfolio. Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz held onto his seat with a large majority in western Saskatchewan. However, the federal minister of state for agriculture, Jean-Pierre Blackburn, lost in his Quebec riding to the NDP. Minister Ritz's two parliamentary secretaries from Ontario, Pierre Lemieux and David Anderson, were both re-elected. Anderson has been secretary on the Canadian Wheat Board file since 2006.
Now the official opposition, the NDP will again have Alex Atamanenko in Ottawa as MP for BC Southern Interior and the NDP critic on agriculture. Atamanenko acknowledges that his job will be more prominent but also more difficult. He wants to see a Canadian food strategy become a reality – something he has worked on for the last two years. He is also dedicated to ensuring that more genetically modified organisms are not introduced and that cattle producers are helped. Atamanenko had introduced a private members bill that did not pass – Bill C-474, that was an amendment to the seed regulations ‘to require that an analysis of potential harm to export markets be conducted before the sale of any new genetically engineered (GE) seeds are permitted.’ Atamanenko's deputy agriculture critic, Ontario MP Malcolm Allen was re-elected, along with Winnipeg MP and CWB critic Pat Martin.
The Liberal's agriculture critic since 2006 and former parliamentary secretary for agriculture, Wayne Easter, won in a tight race in Prince Edward Island. Ralph Goodale, former agriculture minister and the only Liberal in Saskatchewan was re-elected.
The Bloc Quebecois agriculture critic Andre Bellavance was re-elected in a very tight race, one of four Bloc members to hold onto their seats.
The Agriculture Committee itself is essentially intact with Ontario Conservative farmer and rancher Larry Miller returning as committee chairman. Nova Scotia Liberal Mark Ayking and Quebec Bloc Bellavance return as the two committee co-chairs. Along with Atamanenko, Easter and Lemieux there are other returning members including Conservatives Randy Hoback, Bev Shipley, Brian Storseth, Blake Richards and Liberal's Frank Valeriote. Bloc member France Bonsant lost his riding to a NDP challenger and will not return.How agriculture is affected with a Conservative majority is somewhat predictable. A generation ago one out of every three people were associated with farming, now it is closer to one in every fifty people – giving farmers less of a voice. And agriculture in Canada is so varied – with major export markets and vital local markets. We can cross our fingers and hope things turn out - as the saying goes, the proof will be in the pudding.