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

I was one of many registered PC delegates who attended last weekend’s AGM in Toronto. Holding a policy convention immediately after an election is not typical, however the party’s constitution mandated one be held. While some media coverage focused on a few controversial policy ideas brought forward, I felt the enthusiastic participation by so many rank and file members was a healthy sign of a party still glowing from political victory.

Over 1000 members from across the province were joined by Premier Ford and his fellow 74 members of caucus. Senior ministers held round table sessions with members and openly discussed their priorities and plans for the new government’s mandate moving forward. Attending conventions gives members unprecedented access to ministers and staff, and I was impressed by the number of caucus members who participated fully in convention activities.

The new government has been clear in the direction they are taking and openly shared, on more than one occasion, the decision-making framework they are focused on, including:

Affordability – cutting taxes, and generally making life more affordable for average Ontarians is a priority across all ministries.

Competitiveness – reflected in the government’s mantra of making Ontario “Open for Business”, this government clearly wants to do everything possible to make Ontario the economic engine of Canada once again. Their initial focus has been on reducing regulations and making it easier for businesses to grow and prosper.

Balance – ensuring a balanced approach towards legislation and regulatory changes that grows the economy while still looking after the best interests of all Ontarians, including social and environmental concerns.

While the first 5 months of this government has not been without some challenges, for the most part the Ford government is pushing forward with a mandate of “governing for the people”. I am enjoying the access I have to so many ministries and welcome the opportunity for worthwhile discussions with key staff and policy makers. Working with industry and the public, this government has an opportunity to rebuild Ontario’s economy and grow our economic base in the coming years. While this convention is early in this government’s mandate, the celebratory mood was well deserved and to be expected.

Peter Seemann, Grassroots Founder & Principal

This afternoon, Ontario Finance Minister Vic Fedeli rose in the Ontario Legislature with his iconic gold tie and delivered the 2018 Fall Economic Statement (FES) named An Act to Enact, Amend and Repeal Various Statutes. To examine the Economic Statement in greater detail, click hereThe FES usually takes place during the months of October or November and is somewhat like a mini-budget or a smaller fiscal equivalent of the State-of-the-Union address that the US President delivers to Congress. The FES is traditionally delivered by the Finance Minister and puts forth the status of the province’s fiscal health. There are a number of similarities between the FES delivered in the fall, and the provincial government’s budget that gets tabled in the spring.While both the FES and the provincial budget examine what the government of the day has accomplished, and what obstacles remain in place, the major difference between the two is that the FES looks in the rear-view mirror, and assesses what the government has done, as opposed to the provincial budget, which looks ahead to what the government of the day will do.

The first FES tabled by the new PC government was rather unique this time around, in that, journalists and members of the Press Gallery underwent a media lockup and embargo. They were forbidden to publish content in the statement before it was read in the house. Media lockups are very common during federal and provincial budgets, but it is hard to recall a time when a lockup took place for a FES.

It may  be argued that the broad overall theme of the FES could be distilled into the concept of “fiscal discipline and belt-tightening”, an about-face from the previous Liberal government’s provincial budget, tabled earlier this year, that focused on “care not cuts”. The Finance Minister was not shy to say that the new PC government will approach the province’s finances the same way a household would manage their budget.

Since elected, the PCs have spent a great deal of political capital pointing out the fiscal mismanagement of the previous Liberal government, and have pledged  to reverse many incumbent policies.  This will not come as a surprise to many, considering Doug Ford announced during his  campaign that he would be cutting $6bn in provincial expenditures.

The FES is also an important time for the government to influence the media channel. Polling has shown that while the PCs maintain the greatest share of public support in the province, many of the announcements and actions have reduced support for the government.

Here are some of the major announcements in this year’s Fall Economic Statement:
  • Minister Fedeli announced that the actions of the government have created $3.2bn in savings while reducing the province’s deficit to $14.5B (a reduction of $500m).
  • The government announced it will be implementing the Low-income Individuals and Families Tax (LIFT) Credit that will affect 1.1m low-income earners in the province. Starting in 2019, workers earning <$30,000.00 will be exempt from paying provincial income tax while those earning up to $38,000.00 will be taxed at a lower rate.
  • In addition to shutting down the College of Trades, the PC government has also axed funding for 3 post-secondary campus Expansions in the GTA.
  • In an attempt to make efficiencies in government, the PCs will merge the independent offices of the Ontario Child Advocate (established in 2007) with the Ombudsman and merge the office of the Environmental Commissioner (established in 1993) with the Auditor General.
  • Twice during his speech, Minister Fedeli stated that the Green Energy Act is being repealed – a statement that drew both cheers and jeers across the aisles.
  • The government announced $90M in funding for 1,100 hospital beds across the province.
  • According to Minister Fedeli, home heating bills have been lowered and gas prices are down 4 cents a litre.
  • As part of the Open for Business Act, the PCs plan to eliminate red tape by 25% by 2022 (no clear definition of ‘red tape’ was provided).
  • Although not much was mentioned on the policy area, Minister Fedeli announced that the PC gov will implement a housing supply action plan to help address the problems in the province’s housing market.
  • The government also announced that it will take a laissez-faire approach to cross-provincial energy infrastructure.
Both the opposition NDP and third party OLP chose to focus on the negative impacts that the proposed $1.4B in cuts will have on those who are already experiencing difficulties. The NDP focused on the government’s labour policies which propose reductions in sick days and removal of the minimum wage. Additionally, the NDP chose to highlight the fact that Indigenous communities and reconciliation were not mentioned in the FES.  OLP Interim Leader John Fraser focused on the lack of support for the Franco-Ontarian community with the closure of a new Franco Ontarian University proposed by the previous government. Both the NDP and the OLP chose to focus on the lack of oversight and accountability the government will experience as a result of the removal of independent legislative offices.It should be noted that a number of media outlets received an advanced copy of former PC Leader Patrick Brown’s new book Takedown. Excerpts from the book show that Fedeli had “dodged a bullet” with respect to an allegation of “inappropriate behavior” by a female PC staffer. In the following hours, numerous current and former PC staffers and MPPs came to the aid of Minister Fedeli. The allegations do not appear to have hurt the Minister, despite the NDP calling for Premier Ford to usher a third-party investigation, and remove Minister Fedeli from Cabinet until such  investigation is concluded. Members of the PC Caucus demonstrated their support for the Finance Minister by wearing yellow/gold ties and scarves.Despite criticism, the PCs are well within their electoral mandate to change or reverse the policies of the previous government. 80% of Ontario voters believed that it was time for change, and the PCs are using this time to implement their own policies “for the people”.

Grassroots will be continuously monitoring the hustle and bustle taking place at the Ontario Legislature in the months to come. Stay tuned for more information and analysis!

Adrian Macaulay, Director of Research & Polling