By Suzanne Armstrong, Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario
On Oct. 20, Canadians awoke to a change in federal government with the Liberal Party elected to a comfortable majority. Although the new cabinet and shadow cabinets have not yet been selected, it is worth examining the results for the five participants in the National Agricultural Leaders Debate to see who might be advocating for agricultural issues in Ottawa in the 42 Parliament.
Malcolm Allen, former NDP Agriculture Critic, lost his seat in Niagara Centre, Ont. Mark Eyking, former Liberal Agriculture Critic was re-elected to his seat in Sydney-Victoria, NS. Yves Lessard, who represented the Bloc Quebecois in the debate, was unable to regain his former seat in Beloeil-Chambly, Que. Gerry Ritz, former Conservative Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food was re-elected to his seat in Battlefords—Lloydminster, Sask. Andrew West, who represented the Green Party in the debate, was unable to gain a seat in Kanata-Carleton, Ont.
Once again in this election, party support varied regionally. We also see a clear difference between urban ridings and rural ridings in many areas across the country. The turn to the Liberals was much stronger in urban and suburban areas than in rural areas, although not completely divided. Southern Ontario illustrates this pattern particularly well. With many rural ridings now represented on the opposition side rather than the governing side of the new Parliament, there is likely to be greater focus on urban issues. However, even this can be beneficial to farmers. Improving roads and public transit, for example, is an important step in encouraging greater density in cities, curbing urban sprawl from spreading into surrounding farmland. This is not enough, however, to ensure farmland is protected in the long-term. Farm organizations will need to continue to press for good urban planning that takes into account rural needs and concerns such as preservation of farmland.
It is also clear that there will be increased focus on environmental issues with this new government. This may create opportunities for farmers who are particularly stewardship minded. It will also be important, however, to remind federal policy makers of the importance of balancing environmental needs with social and economic concerns in order to achieve lasting sustainability for agriculture.
The Liberals have also described themselves as pro-trade. We will have to wait and see what direction the new government takes on trade issues like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) going forward.
As always, farmers and farm organizations will need to work with the government in power to keep agricultural issues on the agenda and to find workable solutions that benefit farmers both across the country, and here in Ontario.