Under the Agridome
Philip Shaw 10/18 5:23 AM
The weather has turned cold in southwestern Ontario. There is even some corn being taken off across the province, albeit baby steps, with a substantial acreage of soybeans left to harvest. Your loyal scribe even got wheat planted in good conditions this year, and I'm growing impatient that it isn't up yet. I'm looking for the fall of 2019 to grow kinder. That would give us such a nice window to put this crop to bed.
That being said, crops are not the only things being harvested this fall. On Monday, there will be a harvest of votes across Canada as the Federal election takes place. It's always such a good job in democracy in this country that we can vote by hand, across six time zones, count the votes in three hours and then everybody goes to bed. Monday there will be more of the same, although regional polls are tight with the numbers looking more likely of a minority government.
In my 33 years of writing this column, I've seen a lot of elections. In my younger days, I was somewhat more invested, thinking that political change often afforded agricultural policy change. To some extent, back in the 1980s there was a bit of truth to that, as political parties were more attune to the rural and farm vote. However, as the years have gone by, that has changed. Farm issues aren't top drawer in the 2019 election, despite our predilection that they should be.
The world has changed in 33 years of writing about elections in this space. Back in the 1988 election, there was no internet as Canadians debated whether they wanted free trade with our American neighbors to the south. One of the defining TV commercials of that campaign was someone rubbing out the 49th parallel with a pencil eraser. I remember at the time, people having a real fear of the Americans. At the same time in the U.S., free trade was hardly even acknowledged. It was a simpler time, with only three major parties running. Brian Mulroney won that election for the Progressive Conservatives.
His agricultural policy at the time was much like the Liberals. There was support for supply management across the board, but also some very comprehensive agricultural safety net policies to help sustain grain and oilseed producers. It started to erode in 1993 with the election of Jean Chretien, whose agricultural minister, Ralph Goodale, was my nemesis at the time. He had no vision for agricultural income stabilization. It accelerated after that, especially under Stephen Harper until we landed where we are today. In the 2019 election, there is hardly a peep about agricultural policy.
There are many reasons for that, but some of it comes from farmers themselves. The last 10 years have been pretty profitable for Canadian agriculture compared to the 20 years before that. I was once young writing this column, but I am now old; 33 years will do that. It means that attitudes are different now among farmers, just because things have changed so much. Much of that has to do with profits, low interest rates and the low value of the Canadian dollar.
Canadian farmers will vote for all six parties Monday, as there is no homogeneity among us. Sure, lots of western Canadian farmers vote Conservative, but not all. It's the same in eastern Canada, but not all, and in Quebec, the Bloc would probably get most of them but not all. It is a very mixed bag that has translated into our agricultural policy world.
Simply put, not everybody agrees, even among farmers. I saw that before this current election was called, as there was much criticism of the supply-managed sector getting compensated for trade injury while grain farmers didn't. It was pretty stark, much more stark than 30 years ago. It's pretty hard to forge a strong agricultural policy when farmers disagree amongst themselves.
This is what has happened during this era of profits fostered partly through low interest rates and a low Canadian dollar. In the past, our agricultural policy was more "crisis driven," but with low interest rates, there is always another day to make those payments. It's been a game changer, and as I've said many times, if negative interest rates ever come along, it's time for me to retire as an agricultural economist.
Needless to say, it's time to go to the polls Monday. It's a new agricultural world partly played out in social media, data sharing on the cloud, and carbon, lots and lots of carbon. I don't care how you vote, just pick your poison and live with it. Then get back to demanding our politicians are accountable. As farmers, that will always be one part of our responsibilities.
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