July 23, 2003
I expect to be in a position to share some of my ideas about the future of Canada’s agriculture and agri-food industry and the issues affecting people in rural communities.
July 23, 2003
Mr. Bob Friesen
Canadian Federation of Agriculture
75 Albert Street, Suite 1101
Ottawa, Ontario K1P 5E7
Thank you very much for the input you have provided to me on the state of agriculture in Canada. I am listening carefully to what you and other farmers are telling me. Later I expect to be in a position to share some of my ideas about the future of Canada’s agriculture and agri-food industry and the issues affecting people in rural communities.
I regret that my travel schedule is heavily booked around the July 24/25 period. I am scheduled to be at the United Nations. I would have welcomed an opportunity to meet with your delegates at your semi-annual meeting in Charlottelown. In light of that and pending a more complete policy discussion, I wanted to provide you with some preliminary thoughts by means of this letter.
As a matter of basic positioning, two initial points need to be clear. First, I entirely reject the false notion harboured by some that farming is somehow an old fashioned carryover from the so called “old” economy. In my view, agriculture must be understood as a vital part of the “new” knowledge-based economy and a key sector on the nation’s agenda for innovation, investment and growth.
Secondly, a modern agriculture policy for the 21st century must have the success and well being of farmers at the centre of it. Such policy development is not something to be done “to” or “for” farmers, but “with” and “by” them. Governments must stand prepared to listen and to act in constructive partnerships with primary producers and others to build a stronger, less vulnerable and more profitable rural economy.
In this vein, groups such as the CFA certainly provided valuable insights that contributed greatly to the recent work of the Prime Minister’s Caucus Task Force on Future Opportunities in Farming chaired by Bob Speller. Like various governments and farm groups, I endorse this work and I am anxious to build upon the foundation that has been laid.
While a number of interim recommendations received quick implementation, more remains to be done to ensure that the Task Force’s vision for the Future of the agriculture and agri food industry – and the health and prosperity it implies – becomes a reality. I am making a commitment to you, and through you to Canada’s farmers, to work with our Government Caucus and with farm organizations to take all action reasonably possible to secure the industry’s future.
It is a sad reality that given unjustified tariffs on our grain shipments to the United States, the outrageous border closure against Canadian beef, adverse weather conditions in some areas and perhaps other risks, our agricultural policies and programs are likely to get a severe workout this year. At the bottom line, farmers need tools that truly work for them.
In my discussions with farmers, I am always reminded of the vast scope encompassed within Canada’s agriculture sector – different regions focus upon different commodities; risk factors are not all the same; the degree of diversification, value added and intensification varies dramatically from province to province; producer ages, attitudes and farm sizes cover, a broad range. All of this needs to be recognized, understood and embraced in policy development and program delivery.
Like you, I am concerned about the chronically low (and still declining) prices that too many farmers are facing in the global marketplace, and what this means for farmers’ standard of living and their need for off farm employment. The effects of low world prices are compounded by rising input costs and increased foreign competition from new low cost producers (some of whom used to be among our customers not long ago). I want to repeat my support for the efforts of Minister Vanclief and Canada’s trade negotiators to secure the elimination of direct export subsidies, major reductions in trade-distorting domestic support systems, and meaningful improvements in market access. While I would not pretend that these goals will be easy to achieve, their attainment would result in a more level and disciplined playing field to the benefit of the agricultural industry, and that would contribute to the health of the entire nation.
In addition, as our international negotiators go about their assignment, they need to work particularly hard at effectively defending the Canadian Wheat Board and Canada’s supply management systems. And given our recent terrible experience with BSE, they will also need to focus on more reliable open border disciplines to safeguard established trade flows.
In other policy areas, you will already know of my interest in more truly competitive conditions between and among railways in the movement of agricultural commodities; a growing ethanol industry; a robust agenda for agricultural research; and better tools to meet the development challenges of rural communities.
My objective is the transformation of Canada’s rural economy onto a stronger foundation. I have nothing but the greatest of respect for the food producers of this nation. They rank with the very best on earth. I would consider it an honour to have the opportunity to work with the CFA and with farmers, on a complete agenda for the Canadian agriculture and agri-food sector in the 21st century.
My best wishes for a successful semi-annual meeting.
Honourable Paul Martin, P.C., M.P.