Time is Now for Government to Treat Agri-Food Sector as a National Priority


TORONTO, ON – June 3, 2019 – A new poll by Grassroots Public Affairs finds Canadians hold largely positive views about the current and future state of agriculture and agri-food in Canada. Yet the industry, arguably one of the most significant in our economy, has work to do in telling its story.

The online survey measured awareness, attitudes, and public opinion on a range of agricultural issues and policies. With a federal election less than five months away, the research was conducted to measure how Canadians view the industry in comparison to other leading economic sectors, and how Canadian agriculture is viewed compared to the world.

Some of the more positive survey findings include:

  • Nine-in-ten (89%) Canadians from coast to coast are either very or somewhat confident in the safety of food grown or produced in Canada; less so (64%) with the United States.
  • Six-in-ten (61%) believe agriculture and agri-food has a positive impact on the Canadian environment, compared with construction and infrastructure (42%) and mining and natural resources (24%).
  • A significant plurality (44%) of Canadians believe that our agriculture and agri-food sector is likely to grow over time, while just over one-in-five (23%) believe the sector is likely to shrink.

“These findings confirm that policy makers and industry leaders can build on the agriculture sector’s positive reputation as clean, green and on the cutting edge of technology and innovation.  Few other industries are viewed as positively by Canadians.  This is a sector with enormous potential,” says Peter Seemann, Principal & Sr. Consultant at Grassroots Public Affairs.

Despite the generally positive findings, the results also highlight several areas where the sector needs to enhance its public opinion. Examples include:

  • Only one-in-three (32%) Canadians are likely to recommend a career in agriculture and agri-food.
  • Canadians hold conflicting views on agriculture’s environmental history. 36% say agricultural practices and methods have become less harmful to the environment over time, while 34% indicate practices have become more harmful. 

“As Canada’s population has over time become more urbanized, the percentage of Canadians and the politicians that represent them, who have direct experience and understanding in agriculture has decreased,” added Seemann.  “The industry needs to do a better job in collaborating and communicating the massive benefits it offers the country as a whole. This poll shows us Canadians already value our agriculture sector.”

Grassroots Public Affairs is currently working with various leading agri-food commodities and general farm organizations in Canada to promote Economic Development, Food Security and Environmental Stewardship within the agri-food sector for the benefit of all Canadians.

Methodology and Sample Size

The Canada-wide survey was conducted via an online panel of 1,002 Canadians aged 18+. Fieldwork for the survey took place between April 29th – May 2nd, and the survey was available in English and French.


For media inquiries, please contact:

Lindsay Yaciuk

Communications, Grassroots Public Affairs

lindsay@grassrootspa.ca

905-715-2788


Read our overview of polling data:

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Footage from Tuesday’s parliamentary proceedings seemed more like a day at the Coliseum than a house of peace, order and good government.

Minister of Finance Bill Morneau attempted to read aloud the 2019 federal budget as he has done for the last three years. In a spectacle like no other, he was met with deafening chants of “COVER UP! COVER UP!” from opposition members. The chanting was so loud that the parliamentary services translator was unable to hear the minister’s speech.

These chants were part of an overall strategy for the Conservatives to delay and obstruct the Liberal budget – retribution for the Liberal majority-ruled Justice Committee and their handling of the SNC-Lavalin Affair early yesterday morning. A number of parliamentary and procedural ruses (“POINT OF ORDER!”) were employed in the house – chanting (“LET HER SPEAK!”) being the most notable (and audible).

Seemingly unphased, Minister Bill Morneau delivered what he believed to be a budget that would invest in the middle class, pledging $22.8 billion in new spending.

While the speech was inaudible in the house, it was available online. Here are some of the major takeaways from Budget 2019:


Home Sweet Home

Budget 2019 pledges to make home ownership within greater reach for young Canadians. The government has promised to make housing more affordable by reducing barriers to homeownership for first-time home buyers, boost supply in Canada’s housing and rental markets as well as increase fairness in the real estate sector.

The Golden Years

The government pledged $1.8 billion over four years to enhance the guaranteed income supplement for low-income seniors. It would appear that the government also took some lessons away from the Sears bankruptcy: the budget will introduce safeguards to protect pensions in the event of company bankruptcies – a consequence largely felt among seniors and older Canadians.

Over the Counter

Although the government did not announce funding for a national pharmacare program, the budget pledged to set aside $35 million to establish a Canadian Drug Agency that will enhance work already done by provinces and territories on bulk drug purchases and negotiate better prices for prescription medicine. The government additionally stated that as of 2022, $1B will be made available to help Canadians with rare diseases access the high-cost drugs they need.

Talking Turkey – The Fiscal Outlook

It appears that the budget did not, in fact, balance itself. A significant promise of the 2015 Liberal campaign was to post annual deficits of no more than $10 billion and to balance by 2019. As of yesterday, the government announced its intention to run $20B deficits for the foreseeable future.  Although the budget is forecasting the deficit will shrink to $9.8 billion by 2023-24, there is little-to-no mention as to when the government intends to balance the budget.  Some experts are saying Budget 2019 may have painted the government into a cornerif a recession hits.

Despite criticism the government may face for their use of deficits, it’s not all bad news for Trudeau. The Ministry of Finance confirms 850,000 more Canadians are employed today than in 2015, and the unemployment rate is near a 40-year low. If the government can maintain this trend, it’ll make for excellent campaign advertising.


Opposition Reaction

It appears Andrew Scheer has been able to consume most of the media’s attention in his response to the government’s budget. On Tuesday, Scheer delivered a speech to his caucus and the media regarding the Liberals’ budget. Jagmeet Singh chose to focus on housing as his major sticking point to the government. Singh mentioned that RRSP measures will have little-to-no impact on millennials given the fact that many millennials’ RRSPs are in fairly precarious positions.

Both opposition leaders, most notably Scheer, are trying to use the SNC-Lavalin Affair as a means to discredit Trudeau’s budget. They’re trying to broadcast the image of a government that will use unethical means to influence policy to help well-connected friends. Their strategy has potential given the fact that one could promise the moon itself, but if there is no credibility, those promises will fall on deaf ears.

It should also be noted that both the NDP and the Tories have a stake in the two demographics most targeted in the budget: millennials and baby-boomers. The Liberal strategy is to grow the tent as much as possible to bring these key voter groups into a winning coalition. However, both opposition parties will do what they can to convince their respective bases that they’re being sold fool’s gold.

Media Reaction

Much of the post-budget reporting highlighted Minister Morneau’s emphasis on the middle class – a focus that was widely anticipated going into budget day. A Globe and Mail opinion piece by Rob Carrick outlined key demographic groups affected by Budget 2019 changes including homebuyers, postsecondary students, low-income seniors, “procrastinating retirees,” and Canadians interested in longevity insurance.

Paul Wells of Maclean’s contended that Budget 2019 is “sprinkled with what money TruMorn could scrape together” with many gestures that are “strikingly modest in scope.”  Wells suggested that, despite clear preoccupation with election-year concerns, the Liberals’ reticence to spend too much money has forced them to come up with novel funding solutions, such as investments by the Canada Infrastructure Bank for universal high-speed internet provision.

Andrew Coyne’s piece in The National Post argued that the Liberals’ deficits are “deficits of choice, rather than necessity,” though he argues that deficits of this size will not ruin us (as the opposition claims), but neither would eliminating them.  In his eyes, the quantity of spending isn’t so much the issue as the quality: in the rush to get all that “revenue-gusher” spending out the door, he argues that little thought has been given to whether the money is being spent in the best way, or whether it should be spent at all.  Coyne also called into question a past Liberal promise that one dollar in three of new spending would go to infrastructure, as he pointed out that the reality is now closer to one in eight.


The View from the Grassroots

This budget is of critical importance for Trudeau. The media beast can only chew on one ankle at a time and right now it’s slowly gnawing at Justin Trudeau and his network of advisors. As a means to reduce the media’s hyper-focus on the ongoing SNC-Lavalin Affair, the Prime Minister needed to announce what exactly his government has accomplished in their past four years and where they intend to take the country in the future. On Tuesday, they needed to let each voter know: “you’re better off today than you were before.” The power of the pulpit allows the Liberals to announce a fully-costed campaign platform that can be repeated in sound bites over time in addition to changing the channel.

It’s not uncommon to see an incumbent government lose support over time. However, Trudeau’s Liberals have experienced quite a notable drop in support and are far from their “sunny ways” narrative when first elected.  2019 has seen support for the Liberal party decrease slightly. The most recent wave of polling from different firms has shown the party obtaining ~30% support. Considering the Liberals obtained 50% support in 2016, Trudeau and the Liberals have their work cut out for them this fall. 

But wait, there’s more.

Whatever electoral impact Justin Trudeau intends to make, he must take the Ontario provincial budget (to be released April 11th) into account. Seeing as the Ford government was not exactly pleased with their federal counterparts, there is a chance that they may use their last word for reprisal. The carbon tax or other environmental policies could well be where that reprisal takes place. Both Trudeau and Ford defined much of their political capital around environmental issues. Whatever the provincial government choses to do with its last word, it will undoubtedly result in discomfort for Trudeau’s Liberals on the hustings.

Despite the media attention the SNC-Lavalin Affair is receiving, there is a chance that the electorate may be SNC-fatigued and are willing to hear what the government has in store for them. Remember: politics is “what have you done for me lately.” 

As of today, it is possible for Trudeau to pull together a winning (albeit minority) government come election day, but it is doubtful as to whether Budget 2019 will make things any easier for the foreseeable future.

Tiberius was on to something when he said that ruling the Roman Empire was like “like holding a wolf by the ears.”

Adrian Macaulay, Director of Research & Polling
and Liz Gross, Campaign Support Specialist

Turnout was exceptionally low – even by by-election standards

  • Burnaby South: 29.9%
  • Outremont: 21.4%
  • York-Simcoe: 19.9%

When we look back at the last major wave of by-elections in December of 2017 we see relatively higher levels in turnout – most notably in British Columbia.  

  • South Surrey–White Rock: 38.1%
  • Battlefords–Lloydminster: 26.9%
  • Scarborough Agincourt: 26.8%
  • Bonavista–Burin–Trinity: 21.4%

Geography matters and the winning parties won in areas they need in 2019

  • Liberals were able to pick up a fairly strong NDP seat despite pollsters showing the party’s support across Canada decreasing overall.
  • Quebec is home to a great number of NDP seats and if the Liberals wish to remain in power they will have to win over many of the ridings held by NDP incumbents.
  • The NDP under Singh has lost a great deal of support in Quebec and Outremont reflects this as the party’s share of the vote declined by 18%.
  • The NDP will absolutely need to eat away at Liberal held ridings in BC to make up for their loss of support in Quebec.
  • The Tories were able to hang on to a safe seat in a strategically important region of Ontario. The increase in support for right-of-centre candidates in the riding would Liberal strategists something to think about as they will need to win parts of suburban Toronto if they want to stay in power. The Liberals’ share of the vote declined by 8.8% from 2015.

Maxime Bernier is an oddball and is a tad of a thorn in the side of the Tories

  • Bernier’s best performance last night was in Burnaby South where he obtained 10.6% of the vote. The Tory share of the vote dropped by 4.6% which means that many conservatives could have casted their ballots for Bernier but the PPC was still able to drum up its own support organically. His performance in the riding has confused many pols and pundits alike. Expect to see the PPC tout its performance out west as a “sign to come”.
  • Despite being considered the renegade “Albertan from Quebec”, Bernier still draws a fair bit of his power from his home province. However, the riding of Outremont saw Bernier obtain just 2.1% of the vote. It is believed that this largely came at the expense of the Conservatives as the CPC share of the vote in the riding during this by-election declined by 2.2% from their performance in 2015. The same cannot be said for Bernier in Ontario as his share of the vote was 1.9% and the Tories were able to increase their share of the vote by 3.7%.

Adrian Macaulay, Director of Research & Polling

Earth is home to 7.7 billion hungry people, and climbing.  Who will feed the world into the future?  The opportunities for innovative food-producing nations are staggering, and Canada is well positioned to become one of the world’s great agricultural superpowers.  Except, we’re missing one critical component – visionary leadership. Currently Canada’s agri-food industry generates $110 billion annually of GDP, and employs 2.3 million people.  From 2012 to 2016 the sector grew by 11%, compared to the overall economy which grew by 7.8% during that same period.  As a nation, we export more than $60 billion of Agri-Food products annually to other countries.All this success is due mainly to the resourceful nature of our hard-working farmers, a diversity of arable land, and ample fresh water.  Unfortunately, consecutive federal governments have largely ignored the Canadian agricultural sector as an opportunity to drive our economy, and feed the world. Can you imagine the marvellous social and economic benefits if the government prioritized Agri-Food as the focus of Canada’s domestic and foreign policy?

Canada possesses world-class agricultural expertise and innovation.  We have a modern economy and established infrastructure to move our products to market, although more is needed to expand our trade capabilities.  Internationally we have earned a reputation for producing safe, high-quality food.

Becoming a leading global agricultural superpower is within our reach.

Ten years of advocacy work within this sector have convinced me this vision is achievable, and industry research polls indicate the majority of Canadians are optimistic towards the future of agriculture, and what it can do for the Canadian economy.  But optimism alone won’t turn us into a superpower; only visionary leadership will do that.  Without a coordinated, long-term federal plan to position Canada as a major food supplier, our opportunity to dominate on a global scale will be missed.

Collectively the agri-food industry must continue to lobby all levels of government with a clear, consistent and collaborative approach, in order to convince politicians of the massive potential benefits.

In 2017 the federal government’s Advisory Council on Economic Growth, authored by Dominic Barton, highlighted Agri-Food as a key growth sector for Canada.

Since then, not much has happened.

Prime Minister Trudeau’s recent appointment of The Honourable Bernadette Jordan as Minister of Rural Economic Development is an encouraging step, but it will take much more than a new portfolio to drive our Agri-Food sector toward superpower status.

And other nations are already way ahead of us.  The Netherlands, a fraction of our size geographically and lower in population, is currently the number two exporter of food in the world, as measured by value, second only to the USA!  Based on a national commitment to sustainable agriculture made two decades ago, the Dutch have become the global superpower of agricultural innovation, as they pioneer new ways to fight hunger.

If the Netherlands can do it, surely Canada can do it.  With world population projected to reach 10 billion by 2050, there’s room for more food producing superpowers.

The federal election is less than 9 months away, and soon political candidates will criss-cross the land to tell you why they deserve your vote.  Will any of them talk of a long-term vision to champion our Agri-Food sector?  If not, I encourage you to ask why?

In this period of strained relations with longstanding allies and trade partners, it makes sound political sense to build on existing agricultural capabilities, as we work to strengthen current trade relationships, and build new ones.

Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper promoted Canada as an emerging energy superpower during his time as head of government, and repeatedly talked about the resultant economic benefits and increased global influence.  Defeated in 2015, Harper’s vision was not fully realized, and there’s no denying the current government has a different focus.

It’s time for a new vision for Canada.

Everyone needs safe, healthy food to eat, yet many of us take food for granted. Seemingly, so do our elected politicians.  Championing the Agri-Food sector means massive economic development for Canada, and food for the world.

Associations and groups across the country are increasingly promoting opportunities within the agricultural sector, including Farm Credit Canada, hosting their 3rd annual Agriculture Day on February 12th in Ottawa.

Now is the time to unite and celebrate food and the business of Canadian agriculture.

And there’s no time like the present to ponder our superpower capabilities…

Peter Seemann, Grassroots Founder & Principal