Agriculture and the climate were top subjects at all-candidates meeting

·6 min read

Agriculture policies and responses to climate change took first place during an online all-candidates meeting sponsored by prominent farm organizations in the Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound riding.

There will be another debate Tuesday evening, Sept. 14, sponsored by the Chambers of Commerce in Grey Highlands, Owen Sound and Meaford to be live-streamed and broadcast on Rogers.

The Grey and Bruce federations of agriculture hosted the meeting last Tuesday, using a question and answer format.

Each candidate brought out their farm credentials early.

Conservative MP Alex Ruff said he grew up on a farm. Liberal candidate Anne-Marie Watson is a former Grey Federation of Agriculture president who farms with her husband in West Grey.

Green Party candidate Chris Neudorf, the NDP candidate, stressed his party’s back-story as the NDP grew out of the CCF with its focus on rural and farming issues.

Michelle Lawrence of the Green party had worked on a farm for a year when first moving to the area. Reima Kaikkonen is a farmer, who stressed cutting red tape and regulation to help local processors open and expand.

All local candidates took part except Anna-Marie Fosbrooke of the People’s Party of Canada, who may have been hampered by the electrical outages from the severe storm that evening.

Ms Watson defended the ruling party’s record, saying “the Liberal government has had Canadian’s backs through this pandemic.” She also talked about the need to find a way to address climate change that doesn’t unduly burden rural Canada.

MP Alex Ruff said that Liberal promises of support had been heard in the rural areas in previous campaigns – and they’re still good promises, but haven’t been put in practice.

CLIMATE CHANGE

Chris Neudorf said developing renewable local power was an important part of the response in making the NDP targets of having emissions in 2030 be half of what they were in 2005. The jobs created by that transmission would be important to support people in the shift, he said.

Green Party goals in their platform make the goal a 60 percent reduction. Farmers need to be given tools to mitigate the effects of climate change and research and development to transition away from monoculture crops and intensive livestock operations to more regenerative local systems.

Mr. Kaikkonen said that the real need was for a “spiritual climate change.”

Both the NDP and Green party candidates mentioned changing the structure of subsidy systems to support smaller-scale farmers. Mr. Kaikkonen said the farm economy needed to wean itself off to subsidies and open up the right to farm in dairy, eggs and chicken. This, he said, would “give opportunities to new farmers and the next generation of farmers that we need so badly.”

MPP Alex Ruff stressed the need for farmers to receive credits for what’s called carbon sequestration – the benefit from the green areas, woodlands and wetlands they maintain. He said a Conservative government would support technology and innovation in agriculture in capturing methane and using it as a renewable energy source and source of revenue for the farmer. That would be part of the Conservative Party’s platform promise to invest $3 billion between now and 2030 into “natural climate solutions.”

There was no detailed discussion about carbon tax, which the parties differ on, but there was agreement on the need to give farmers credit for the “green assets” and not just penalize them through carbon tax without other affordable energy alternatives in place.

Ms Watson said climate change is on our door steps, and Liberals understand the seriousness of climate change, but added “we will not leave our farmers behind when we transition to net zero.” Net-zero means balancing greenhouse gases produced and those taken out of the atmosphere.

MP Ruff said many of the Liberal promises around reducing the burdens carried by agriculture had been made in previous campaigns as well, but never implemented.

FARM LABOUR

Ms Lawrence (Green) said an apprenticeship program could help maintain and increase the workforce in agriculture. She said that the temporary and migrant workers program should increase rights for migrants with respect to their wages, schedule and safety and other labour protection.

MP Ruff said that a strategy should be developed with industry leaders to address the shortage. He expected apprenticeship programs to be part of the solution.

Ms Watson (Liberal) said that increased land prices increase start-up costs, which is a problem government can’t fix by itself. She also endorsed apprenticeship, as well as rent-to-own farming opportunities, low-interest loans and immigration.

Mr. Neudorf said that subsidies for young and new farmers were important, as well as addressing the need for Wi-Fi in the countryside, which is needed for business and social. A pathway to citizenship for migrant workers as well as better opportunities was important, he said. “We want to push corporate farming out and bring small farms back,” he said.

During the discussion of the economics of carbon taxes and credits, Mr. Kaikkonen opposed carbon taxes while others concentrated on assuring farmers received credits.

Mr. Ruff argued that current Business Risk Management programs need to be changed to be more flexible. Ms Watson said Agri-Stability has helped farmers coping with extreme weather this summer, but that those programs, like all programs, should be reviewed to make sure that they meet needs as even now some aspects are not working.

NDP candidate Chris Neudorf agreed with the needs for support for farmers especially in the face of climate change, as did the Green candidate, who said that payments should be speeded up and more aid directed to smaller farms.

While candidates agreed that roads were a provincial responsibility, several re-directed a question about rural roads to the “roads” of internet connectedness.

MP Alex Ruff repeated the Conservative platform to bring high-speed internet everywhere by 2025, and to appoint a specific Minister of Rural Affairs to look at these and other priority issues in rural Canada.

Ms Watson said that the Liberals have a plan that will decrease the deficit every year. She said that banks and insurance company should “pay more” as they have had record profits during COVID.

Getting Canadians back to work post-COVID was important, and the Liberal promise of $10 per day child care within five years or sooner will help, she said.

NDP candidate Chris Neudorf promoted the approach of a wealth tax, and at the same time investment to create green jobs.

M.T. Fernandes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Dundalk Herald

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