September 3, 2020
Letter Welcoming Erin O’Toole
September 2, 2020
Dear Mr. O’Toole,
On behalf of the Grain Growers of Canada (GGC), Canada’s national voice for grain farmers, we would like to congratulate you on your recent victory in the election to become Leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. We look forward to working with you and your office, and are happy to provide any support we can to brief you and your policy staff on the issues facing our sector.
We greatly appreciate that, during that race, you took the time to join our Executive Director, Erin Gowriluk, for a fireside chat on her podcast to share your vision for agriculture directly with farmers. It was clear you respect and appreciate the contributions grain farmers make to rural economies across the country, and understand that we will be a critical sector in our nation’s post pandemic economic recovery.
Now, in true farm fashion, we want to get right to work. With the government set to outline their new agenda through a Speech from the Throne on September 23rd, we wanted to take a moment to highlight a few areas that we are hoping to see addressed in it. This week, we submitted a letter to Minister Freeland with these same priorities, and we felt it was important that you too be aware of what we are advocating for to help ensure grain farmers can thrive, and drive our economy in the months and years ahead.
Business Risk Management (BRM) programs
As you know, our biggest focus as a sector, prior to and during the pandemic, has been the need for government to make necessary changes to Canada’s BRM programs – specifically AgriStability.
In 2012, the Conservative government made changes to reduce the trigger and payment levels in the program to 70 per cent. At that time, farmer incomes were on the rise, market access was increasing, and trade barriers were being removed. However, in recent years we have seen increased market and trade volatility, more severe climate-related events, and increased cost of inputs. AgriStability coverage has not changed despite these significant challenges.
AgriStability is far from perfect, but it is the best available program to support farmers suffering from uncontrollable factors. The program is uniquely tailored to each farm’s income, but at the current trigger level, it does not stabilize income and serves as more of a disaster recovery program at best.
To reverse this course, we are requesting coverage be immediately restored to 85 per cent of historical reference margins with no Reference Margin Limit. A majority of farm groups are aligned with this request, thereby creating a clear, direct ask of government.
Supporting science and innovation in agriculture
We know that science and innovation are critical to maintaining the profitability, competitiveness and sustainability of Canada’s agriculture and agri-food sector and are fundamental to Canada’s economic recovery. Because of COVID-19, our industry lost a year of field trials, which sets us back immeasurably. We fully support all initiatives to protect the health and safety of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) employees, but it will also be critical to attempt to make up for lost time in agriculture research sector.
This is important for everyone. We know that agriculture will be a major driver of our economic recovery, but only through continued innovation. In light of this, we are advocating for increased funding towards AAFC research to help our sector lead the way in future economic growth and prioritize it as an area of investment going forward.
In a similar vein, Canada needs an enabling regulatory framework for plant breeding innovation to ensure growers remain competitive globally and that we have a robust research environment. Enhancements to Canada’s Plants with Novel Traits regulations are required to streamline the process and provide needed predictability. Plant breeding innovation, such as gene editing, has the potential to provide new tools to address evolving agronomic challenges, to further enhance our environmental sustainability and to meet evolving consumer needs. We are concerned that growers will be placed at competitive disadvantaged as U.S and Latin American growers receive access to new tools before Canadian growers and Canada is over-looked for research and development investment.
Funding the Pest Management Regulatory Agency
The Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) does work that is critical for our industry while also protecting our global export markets. The annual number of PMRA projects involving pesticide re-evaluations will triple by 2029, relative to 2019, clearly exceeding existing capacity and resources. Therefore, the program must be adequately funded to keep up with the increasing workload of post market re-evaluations.
Additionally, we are supportive of the PMRA establishing a Pan-Canadian Water Monitoring Program to prioritize access to accurate data to protect the health of people and the environment, while also ensuring Canada’s reputation as a jurisdiction with regulatory certainty. Absent of the funding and establishment of this program, housed within PMRA, agricultural innovation in Canada will be threatened, resulting in the potential loss of billions from our economy.
Resources to ensure full implementation of Free Trade Agreements (FTAs)
For many years, Canada has embarked on an ambitious free trade agenda, which has resulted in many FTAs being signed and brought into force over the last decade. We are fully supportive of diversifying and expanding market access for Canadian grains, pulses and oilseeds, however the success of those agreements following coming into force has been mixed.
For example, CETA holds so much promise for agri-food exporters yet continues to fall short. The EU is not abiding by commitments to remove technical barriers shutting out our exports. At the end of this summer, it will be three years since the deal came into force and our exports are flat when they should be much higher. On the other hand, EU agri-food exports to Canada continue their double-digit increase.
There must be adequate funding within Global Affairs Canada to ensure that trade agreements such as CETA aren’t just signed and forgotten, but are implemented properly, to ensure equal and maximum benefits for Canadian export sectors such as ours.
Carbon Tax Exemptions
GGC is supportive of both C-206, and S-215, which were tabled in the House of Commons and Senate respectively. These bills were similar in nature, both seeking to exempt the use of propane and natural gas for grain drying from the carbon tax, as there are simply no alternative energy sources available to fuel grain dryers, therefore the tax is unable to encourage a transition to lower carbon options. Bill S-215 also proposed to include the use of those fuels for the heating and cooling of farm structures.
COVID-19 and prorogation have obviously disrupted the expected timelines for debate and passage of those pieces of legislation, but it has not lessened the need for farmers to use grain dryers. After another wet summer across parts of the country, many farmers are anticipating an above normal use of grain dryers once again, and in turn higher costs due to the tax. At a time of such economic uncertainty, volatile prices, and continued trade disruptions, farmers are looking for support from the government.
We believe that those exemptions can easily be inserted into the next Budget Implementation Act, to provide much needed financial relief to those farmers that need to dry their grain, or risk it spoiling in the bin. This small measure will avoid continuing to punish Canadian farmers who simply do not have a low carbon alternative to this vital process.
Rural cellular wireless and internet connectivity
This has long been an issue for the agriculture sector, but COVID-19 has highlighted more than ever that rural Canadians critically need vastly improved cellular wireless and internet connectivity, as well as improved broadband access in their homes.
Agriculture is developing new and innovative tools every year to reduce inputs and produce more crops on less land. However, those tools are only as good as the connection they have. To guarantee Canadian grain growers are best able to utilize these innovations, we need major investments in infrastructure for high-speed internet in homes and, just as importantly, cell and internet signal availability in farmers’ fields across the country.
These six topics are some of our core issues that require urgent action but are certainly not the only issues the GGC are engaged on. We would be happy to meet with you at your convenience, virtually or in person, to discuss additional challenges facing our sector, and our proposed solutions that you may be interested in exploring as you seek to establish policy positions and future proposals as the new leader of your party.
Once again, congratulations on your new role. We look forward to working with you to advance the interests of Canadian grain growers.
Chair, Grain Growers of Canada