By Diego Flammini
A Canadian ag organization has released what it would like to see Governor General Julie Payette mention in Wednesday’s throne speech.
Grain Growers of Canada (GGC) published its ‘Speech from the Combine’ on Monday to demonstrate how agriculture can be part of Canada’s recovery from COVID-19, said Jeff Nielsen, the president of GGC.
“Agriculture is poised to help the economy bounce back from concerns due to the pandemic,” he told Farms.com. “We want to make sure agriculture is brought up in the throne speech. It’s a key driver of the Canadian economy and we feel the industry should be represented in the speech.”
The Olds, Alta. farmer narrates the nearly eight-minute video. In it, he outlines six specific GGC requests for the federal government.
The first one is for the government to provide effective business risk management programming.
Some of the options available now don’t take into consideration the financial challenges producers currently face, Nielsen said.
“Restoring AgriStability program coverage to 85 per cent is something the industry has wanted for some time now,” he said.
Currently, AgriStability is triggered when net farming income falls below 70 per cent.
Stephen Harper’s Conservative government made the 15 per cent adjustment in 2015.
One year prior, realized net income for Canadian farmers rose by 23 per cent to $7.7 billion, Statistics Canada reported.
Canadian farmers in 2020 find themselves in a different position than they were six years ago, Nielsen said.
“We were in an uptick then and we weren’t facing the same challenges that we are now,” he said. “The Canadian taxpayer can’t do what our American neighbours are doing to support ag to the levels the Americans are. And we don’t want handouts, either. I don’t want to go to the mailbox and hope for a cheque to be there.
“Farmers want programs that will be there to back them up when they need it.”
GGC is also asking the federal government to change the way it approaches plant breeding and research.
The private sector has done a good job supporting research and now Ottawa needs to do the same, Nielsen said.
“We’ve seen (the federal ag ministry) back away from public research,” he said. “When you have breeding lines that can take up to 10 years before a farmer can grow (the variety or hybrid), even a one-year gap can change things for farmers. We’re looking for assurances that there will be increased funding for research programs.”
GGC’s third request is for Ottawa to provide funding to the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) and to create a Pan-Canadian Water Monitoring Program under the PMRA.
The people at the PMRA are being asked to do more, and the government needs to ensure the resources and personnel are available to keep up with increased workloads, Nielsen said.
“We can’t afford not to have some products re-registered, so we want to hear that the government is committed to helping the PMRA which, in turn, helps us,” he said.
A national water monitoring program needs to be in place to ensure data from water samples collected from ag operations is accurate, Nielsen added.
GGC’s fourth ask for the federal government is to do more on the trade front.
Some partners aren’t holding up their ends of trade deals with Canada, Nielsen said.
“When it comes to CETA (Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement), we’ve got issues there,” Nielsen said. “Italy was giving us issues with durum which they’ve since backed off on. But rifts like that don’t allow the trade deal to work as it was originally designed for our commodities. Some trade deals are one-sided, and we need to put our best foot forward to ensure fair trade for Canadian producers.”
The next request for the federal government is carbon tax exemptions.
Farmers use propane and natural gas to dry grain or heat barns and are paying a tax for it. Without any alternative option to perform these necessary tasks, producers should be given relief from the carbon tax, Nielsen said.
“We’re asking the federal government to respect that crop drying is a fact of life,” he said. “We use the most efficient equipment we can, and we can’t pass those costs on.”
The final request is to provide rural communities with more connectivity.
The Trudeau government’s 2019 budget included plans to ensure every Canadian has access to Internet download speeds of at least 50 megabits per second (Mbps) and upload speeds of at least 10 Mbps.
The pandemic has shown how important connectivity is, and the government needs to fast-track its Internet plans, Nielsen said.
“We’re connected to our equipment and we need the capabilities to download the data and manage it somehow,” he said. “But COVID-19 has amplified the need for more communities to have better Internet. More people are working from home, or learning at home, and there have been times in our house where the Internet has been overloaded and it’s a struggle to even watch a YouTube video.”
The governor general is expected to address Parliament at 1 p.m. ET on Wednesday.
The speech is expected to focus on childcare and overall health care, Global News reported.
A confidence vote will take place after the speech. If the Liberals don’t receive the necessary support from the opposition parties, Canadians will be heading to the polls.