BY ERIN GOWRILUK
On Aug. 18, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Parliament would be prorogued until Sept. 23. His rationale? To hit the reset button and write a new throne speech to lay out a pathway for Canada’s post-pandemic recovery.
When the speech was delivered, however, the one glaring omission was any mention of the sectors that would be needed to help drive that recovery. This was a disappointment for us at Grain Growers of Canada (GGC). We had made it very clear that our industry—uniquely positioned to help drive post-pandemic recovery—would need to be immediately supported and acknowledged at a federal level.
We delivered this message in a way that was sure to get the attention of our federal representatives, not to mention everyone else. On Sept. 21, two days before the speech was delivered, we launched our own Speech from the Combine, in which our chair Jeff Nielsen spoke from his farm near Olds.
Since March, the Canadian government has been rightfully consumed with the pandemic and focused on its impact to Canadians and the economy. This made it more challenging to get the government’s attention on the pressing issues that need to be addressed if Canadian farmers and the rural communities they live in are going to thrive.
Therefore, in our Speech from the Combine, we made it as easy as possible for the federal government to understand what we need and why we need it now. Our asks included the need for AgriStability to better reflect the current realities of farming by returning program coverage to 85 per cent of historical reference margins and removing the reference margin limits. We also advocated for modernization of the regulations to enable innovation in plant breeding, an increase in funding for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada research and immediate action on legislation to exempt all on-farm fuel from the carbon tax. Of course, there were more requests. They are all contained in the Speech from the Combine, which can be viewed on the GGC YouTube channel, but suffice to say, none of them are new, they have just become more urgent.
Despite all our clear asks, we were disappointed by the recognition that Canadian ag received in the throne speech. Specifically, no mention was made on any of the critical challenges facing our sector. However, I am an optimist, so I will say there were a few items mentioned where progress can be made. The prime minister did make reference to our industry on a handful of occasions and we are pleased to see mention of support for free and fair trade, the acceleration of timelines to ensure all Canadians have access to high-speed internet and the establishment of a new Canada Water Agency that can identify more opportunities for the creation of resilient water and irrigation infrastructure.
Perhaps most surprising was this excerpt from the speech: “[the] government will recognize farmers, foresters and ranchers as key partners in the fight against climate change, supporting efforts to reduce emissions and build resilience.”
The reason I say surprising is that this sentiment has not been reflected in recent conversations we have had with the government, particularly when we’ve shared success stories about agricultural carbon sequestration and soil health management strategies. However, we can remain ever hopeful that this message sets a new tone, as we have stated repeatedly that farmers are more than willing to step up and play a role in addressing climate change.
So, where do we go from here? This was a long throne speech, about twice as long as the one delivered last year. However, like many before it, it was heavy on buzzwords and light on anything new. Plastic straws will still be banned and two billion trees will still be planted. GGC is concerned with the latest round of promises, especially the ones related to our industry. How is the government going to achieve the goals outlined? What, truly, is the plan for economic recovery?
Moreover, we would like to know what will be done to support our industry so it can be central to the federal government’s plans for economic recovery. GGC will continue to push for answers to these questions. I thank you for your support.
Erin Gowriluk is the executive director of the Grain Growers of Canada.