Canadian Federation of Agriculture Examines Challenges

Commentary, Agriculture, Robert Sopuck

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) held its annual meeting recently in Halifax, Nova Scotia and I was fortunate enough to be there. The CFA is Canada’s general farm organization, basically it’s the same as Manitoba’s Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) “writ large” across the country. Members of the CFA are the various commodity groups and/or provincial farm organizations.

The theme for this year’s CFA annual meeting was “Cultivating the Future of Agriculture.” About 200 farm association delegates from across Canada met for the better part of a week both in plenary sessions and in committee. They discussed farm policy issues ranging from Farm Safety Nets to Alternate Energy to the Environment and debated a whole host of resolutions. Speakers dealt with such topics as Free Trade, U.S. and European farm policy (no hope on those fronts!), as well as farm financing. Representatives from both the European Union and the United States stated emphatically that their governments will continue to pour public money into agriculture, to whatever level is necessary. It was a message that the CFA did not want to hear and left some members to react with bitterness about Canada’s comparatively puny subsidy levels.

Agriculture is not suffering from a lack of recognition from the federal government judging by the number of cabinet ministers and government MPs in attendance. The Hon. Lyle Vanclief, federal Minister of Agriculture’s speech stated flat out that there was little “new” money for agriculture but that the government would continue to work with the World Trade Organization (WTO) to “level the playing field” for producers. Given the message of the U.S. and E.U. representatives at CFA he has precious little chance of success.

The Hon. David Anderson, federal Environment Minister, discussed his department’s new Species at Risk Act (SARA) which has raised grave concerns among producers, landowners, and rural resource industries. The Minister was quite frank about the pressures he is facing from the “greens” to adopt a regulatory approach to species conservation on both public and private lands, but then went on to state that he prefers the cooperative stewardship and incentive approach. In so many words he was asking CFA and the general farm and resource community for their help in ensuring that stewardship remains the policy of choice. Anderson went even further by stating that if stewardship works he would be prepared to review other regulations with the view to revising laws to provide incentives rather than punishment. The odious Fisheries and Oceans enforcement efforts and Fisheries Act spring to mind. It remains to be seen whether CFA will respond to the Minister’s “plea” for help. After all it’s much easier to criticize.

Both Charles Hubbard, Chair of the House of Commons Committee on Agriculture and Mr. Bob Speller, Chair of the PM’s Task Force on Agriculture presented their reports which generated much heated discussion especially on the topic of farm aid. But the two Liberals “gave as good as they got” as they described the constraints they faced.

Manitoba was well-represented by KAP. Out-going president Don Dewar presented the report of the CFA Safety Nets Committee and the rest of the KAP delegation was active throughout the meeting.

All in all the meeting was a most useful insight into the trials and tribulations of farmers and their general farm organizations. About the only certainty is that any farmer who does not belong to his or her farm organization is missing out on some very important opportunities to influence policy and government.