POLICY BODY BUILDS AG INTELLIGENCE
BY CAROL PATTERSON • PHOTO COURTESY OF UNIVERSITY OF CALGARY
Established in February of this year, the Simpson Centre for Agricultural and Food Innovation and Public Education has already caught the attention of ag industry policy makers. Housed at The School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary, the new entity was established in partnership with the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. The centre has been tasked with the mandate to build intellectual infrastructure for applied policy research in agri-food and agri-business.
Canada’s Food Security During the COVID-19 Pandemic, the centre’s first report, which was penned by Kerri L. Holland, addressed the impact of coronavirus on the Canadian agriculture industry.
Also timely, the centre released Grown Locally, Harvested Globally: The Role of Temporary Foreign Workers in Canadian Agriculture by policy analyst Robert Falconer in July. A pandemic must-read, the report highlighted vulnerabilities in Canada’s food supply chain. With a record number of temporary foreign workers hired last year and pandemic-related travel restrictions imposed this year, it examined the situation and outlined expedient solutions decision makers can implement to manage the situation.
The centre is named after John Simpson, a Calgary rancher and businessman who donated $5 million to establish the facility, which is intended to advance Western Canada’s agricultural interests. Alberta-born Simpson represented Canada at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal as a member of the Canadian equestrian team. He later built one of Canada’s largest Hereford herds and is owner, chair and CEO of the CANA Group of Companies. A get-it-done entrepreneur who has considerable experience in tackling agricultural growth and sustainability, he is actively involved in the operation of his namesake policy centre.
Pierre-Gerlier Forest, is a University of Calgary community health sciences professor and the James S. and Barbara A. Palmer Chair in Public Policy as well as director of the Simpson Centre. Forest is now busy commissioning papers while building the organization’s intellectual infrastructure.
His hope is half the centre’s advisory board will be appointed and a large portion of its scientific council members will be recruited by the time its next director takes up the position, likely this fall.
The centre will support a small team of dedicated researchers. “We are trying to get the best,” said Forest. They will explore issues related to trade policy, environment and climate change, farm and agri-food technology and how agriculture functions as a major resource sector. They will also work to calculate the ag industry’s growth potential and its contributions to the nation’s economy. The centre will draw upon the expertise of additional researchers from around the world.
He stressed the value of the centre’s unique policy focus. “We will be a broad agriculture centre looking at a full range of agriculture and agri-food and what can be done in terms of regulations, taxation, public education, legislation and so forth.”
The centre also offers webinars on agricultural issues such as commodity export opportunities and sustainability practices employed by Canada’s grain industry. It also conducts roundtable sessions to gather the opinions of industry stakeholders. “Our goal is to see more roundtable events with people in the agricultural industry to identify key problem areas” said Karen Spencer, the centre’s project co-ordinator.
In addition to its research efforts, the creation of public awareness of farm life and agricultural issues is part of the centre’s outreach ambitions. “In 1921, one in three Canadians had a job in primary agriculture in some way, now it’s less than two per cent,” said Spencer. “Working with the public is one of our key mandates.” Simpson Centre webinars can be viewed at policyschool.ca/webinars.