HURON-BRUCE – Four federal Huron-Bruce candidates squared off on the topic of agriculture, in last week’s all-candidates meeting hosted by the Huron and Bruce federations of agriculture.
Participants in the Sept. 2 event were Ben Lobb, Conservative; James Rice, Liberal; Jan Johnstone, NDP; and Justin Smith, Independent. Jack Stecho, People’s Party, sent his regrets. The order of speaking was decided ahead of time, and changed throughout the meeting, to ensure no candidate had an unfair advantage or disadvantage.
Moderators were Rob Vanden Hengel, Huron County Federation of Agriculture, and Chris Cossitt, Bruce County Federation of Agriculture.
Each candidate was given the opportunity to give an opening and closing statement, and an answer to each question.
Questions were also decided in advance. They covered a wide range of topics, all with an agricultural focus, including rural infrastructure such as roads, environmental issues, supply management, education, temporary foreign workers, the carbon tax, foreign trade, keeping farm land in agriculture and the federal budget.
Lobb said a Conservative government would invest in rural infrastructure including high-speed internet and community centres, open new markets, demand fair treatment in existing trade deals and address the shortage of agricultural workers.
Among the key points he made during the question period was the fact that farmers shouldn’t be regarded as part of the problem in global climate change, but part of the solution.
Lobb said a balanced budget is important, and the way to get the economy back on track is to get people working. He described Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole’s million job strategy.
Lobb repeatedly made note of the fact Canada is short 30,000 workers in agricultural processing.
“We need to keep businesses open, keep the economy open,” he said.
Education has a strong role to play in the future of agriculture.
“Young people don’t know all the amazing jobs there are in agriculture,” Lobb said.
Lobb said he supports Ontario’s Risk Management system as a model to mitigate risk.
Rice stressed the importance of agricultural issues in Huron-Bruce and how he’s been reaching out to agricultural stakeholders to find out what’s needed. He said this is one of the most important elections in history, particularly for agriculture.
Among the key points he made was the importance of the Liberal Party’s $10 a day daycare program, to get people back into the workforce.
Regarding the need for protecting farmland, Rice said the key is encouraging urban centres “to build vertically, not horizontally.”
Environmental issues are important to Rice, who pointed out the carbon tax isn’t the only thing in the Liberals’ environmental plan. He spoke of clean energy, something important in Huron-Bruce, where Bruce Power is located.
Regarding climate change, Rice said, “Farmers are at the forefront … listen to them!” They know what’s needed, he added.
He spoke of being ready to provide strong representation in Ottawa, and said farmers can count on the Liberals to provide relief programs when they’re needed.
Johnstone promised to bring to Ottawa the same zeal in representing Huron-Bruce that she has demonstrated in public education. The NDP has bold, new universal programs that would make life more affordable for everyone, she said.
Getting people back to work safely is key, she said, and that includes in agriculture. Small business owners including farmers need to be provided with the resources to do that.
The importance of temporary foreign workers in agriculture became apparent during the pandemic, she said, adding that residency should be on the table “for the workers who came to Canada to work in agriculture during the pandemic.” She also advocated more employment opportunities for women in agriculture.
She answered a question about climate change by saying the NDP is calling for a national soil health strategy, and encourages best management practices.
Overall, the NDP is about fairness, she said – taxing the ultra-rich and closing tax loopholes.
Smith said that as an independent, he believes in freedom. To him that means lower taxes, an end to corporate bailouts and more money in farmers’ pockets. He asked people to tell him what they want, and he will fight for it.
He said he supports ending all COVID-19 subsidies and mandates, to get things “back to the way they’re supposed to be.” He’d end the carbon tax.
Having temporary foreign workers in agriculture is a short-term solution to the labour shortage, he said, adding, “We have to make it permanent.”
“Eliminating wasteful government programs,” is the way Smith would deal with the deficit.
In summary, he said Canadians have been voting for the “lesser evil” for too long; as an independent, he doesn’t have to “toe the party line and can truly represent his constituency.”
As the incumbent who has participated in previous federation of agriculture all-candidates meetings, one might have expected Lobb to have the clearest picture of how his party would support agriculture in Huron-Bruce, and he certainly did.
However, contenders Rice, Johnstone and Smith made some important points. Rice has made it a priority to engage with the agricultural community, and as someone deeply involved in education and community work, Johnstone demonstrated a firm grasp on area issues.
Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times