The politics of agriculture were front and centre at the annual general meeting of the Prescott County Federation of Agriculture on September 26 in Fournier.
The federation had invited all of the federal election candidates from Glengarry-Prescott-Russell but only Liberal Francis Drouin and New Democrat Konstantine Malakos attended. Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) Vice President Peggy Brekveld was also a special guest at the meeting.
Brekveld highlighted the Producing Prosperity plan for agriculture and the economy that the OFA developed which has since been adapted at the national level by the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA). Producing Prosperity is based on agriculture being a driver of economic development, a participant in environmental stewardship, and ensuring food security.
Konstantine Malakos said the government should provide subsidies to assist young people who want to begin farming, or for new cooperatives.
Malakos said farmers need to be better included by government in its strategy of responding to climate change.
Francis Drouin, who has served as the Liberal Member of Parliament since 2015 emphasized he has not been afraid to support other parties or vote against his own on agricultural issues. He voted in favour of an NDP bill that would have reduced financial barriers to transferring farm ownership between family members and voted against a Liberal private member’s bill on animal rights that would have negatively affected farmers.
Drouin said the US Congress has still not ratified the United States-Canada-Mexico Agreement (USMCA) that is supposed to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), so it has not been ratified by Parliament in Canada either. Drouin said that if the US does not approve it, neither will Canada.
Drouin noted that fuel used on farms is exempt from the carbon tax, except for propane and natural gas. However, Drouin said that they should also be exempt, and he has written the Minister of Agriculture requesting an exemption be granted.
The Liberal candidate addressed the local labour shortage and acknowledged that temporary foreign workers can come and work on farms, but improvements are needed with permanent immigration that will help fill local employment needs.
Brekveld asked the candidates how they would address the trade issues that are beyond the control of most farmers.
Malakos said compensation is needed by “signing away food sovereignty” on international trade agreements must stop. He criticized the concessions the dairy industry has had to make to the US market under both Conservative and Liberal governments.
Drouin suggested that existing business risk management programs be revised but doing that also depends on provincial cooperation.
Neil McDonald, who farms near Vankleek Hill, asked what government could do to make it easier to transfer farm ownership between family members because the existing process is complicated and expensive.
Drouin acknowledged it is a challenging process and said he would have to seek an opinion from tax lawyers to get more information.
Malakos said there should be no federal land transfer taxes when farm ownership changes within a family. He said that the NDP would make removing the tax a condition of its support for the Liberals if they only form a minority government after the October 21 election.