Prime minister Justin Trudeau reiterated at the recent Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) annual meeting that the fertilizer emissions reduction target proposed by his government is voluntary.
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Speaking to farmers gathered at the annual meeting March 6 — a surprise late addition to the agenda — the prime minister praised farmers for their hard work and outlined government initiatives to help them deal with the urgent issue of climate change. It was the first time all the leaders of the major parties spoke at the CFA AGM in recent memory.
Why it matters: Farmers have been concerned with the direction of the Trudeau government related to agriculture and the CFA annual meeting gave them a chance to ask the prime minister questions directly.
“You guys are worried about climate change and a whole lot of other things,” he said, adding there is a lot of misinformation online about the government’s intention.
Trudeau said he’d been at a town hall in Langley, B.C., where a farmer approached him and asked why the government was mandating a 30 per cent fertilizer reduction.
“I want to be as clear with you as I was with him,” he said.
“We are consulting with farmers and the industry about the voluntary, not mandatory, reduction in emissions from fertilizers, not in use of fertilizers.”
The prime minister said he heard directly from farmers that finding ways to use fertilizer more efficiently is important for sustainability and resiliency but also the bottom line. He said the government is investing in farmers’ futures by providing funding for clean technologies, such as programs that help them buy more efficient grain dryers.
He also pointed to other government measures, such as increasing the interest-free portion of the advance payments program loans.
“Our government is constantly looking at more ways we can be there for you,” he said.
“We offer generous programs (and) we want to make sure they’re responding to the needs of smaller family farms and younger farmers as well.”
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Trudeau said the previous federal government cut agricultural budgets and services.
“We believe in supporting you, not taking you for granted.”
That extends to supply management, which all parties have said they support. A bill currently going through Parliament, C-282, would enshrine that support in legislation.
Trudeau said the government has fully and fairly compensated all supply managed sectors for lost market access due to earlier trade deals.
“I promise Canadians that never again will Canada’s supply management system be up for negotiation in trade deals,” he said.
“There’s a bill in the House of Commons right now that will enshrine this into law and ensure that future governments respect this promise.”
After his address to the delegates, Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre said his party supported moving the bill through the process.
Saskatchewan chicken farmer Nick Langelaar said dairy, egg and poultry farmers are proud to raise food under the supply management system.
“While we appreciate your party’s commitment to supply management, there are always concerns among farmers any time trade agreements are being negotiated,” he said.
“We appreciate you voting in favour of Bill C-282 at second reading. Can you reassure farmers that you will support the bill all the way through the legislative process?”
Poilievre said when previous Conservative governments negotiated trade agreements they protected supply management while opening new markets for other sectors. More recent agreements gave away access and restricted exports from Canadian producers, he added.
“We voted to send the bill to committee to study it. We share the goal of supporting supply management in international treaties, as we’ve always done. At the same time we do need to open up new markets for other agricultural sectors.
“Ultimately our commitment is to protect supply management as we negotiate free trade agreements in future.”
The three other party leaders also addressed the crowd.
Green Party leader Elizabeth May pitched her party as a partner for farmers, suggesting farmers should be paid for the ecological goods and services they provide, including carbon storage.
The NDP’s Jagmeet Singh said the federal government should be a better partner as farmers face the challenges of storms, floods and drought, and highlighted his concerns about grocery prices and grocer profits.
Yves-Francois Blanchet of the Bloc Quebecois stated his party’s complete support for C-282.
This article was first published at Western Producer.