With the federal election just over a week away, it’s worth considering the key issues affecting farming as we prepare to go to the polls. Concerns about COVID-19 and healthcare go without saying, but there are other, long-term issues that are worth considering when casting our votes. CFFO sees five major items of concern.
Firstly, we recognize that housing is an acute problem, particularly in our urban centres. In Ontario, populations are also drawn to areas where prime agricultural land exists. We need government that recognizes that, if we want Canadian-grown food in the future, we MUST protect our farmland today. Of course, land use planning occurs primarily at the provincial and municipal levels, but that hasn’t stopped federal party leaders from wading into the housing shortage discussion. If federal policy is about to affect housing and development, we want to know which party will best protect farmland.
CFFO is also concerned about farm labour shortages. It’s been a problem for a long time, and the pandemic has added to the challenge. Horticulture and other sectors rely heavily on temporary foreign workers. Without them, we lose horticulture in Canada, which is a major food security issue. We’re looking for strong government support for programs like the Temporary Foreign Workers Program and the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program. At the same time, we need support for long-term innovation in technology to fill the labour gaps.
Related to this concern, in some ways, is farmer mental health. Those who are involved in direct marketing or who have employees experienced incredible amounts of stress last year. But the fact of the matter is that the pandemic only highlighted a problem that has been a concern for a long time. We need government support to provide resources that will help farmers for the long run, not just during the pandemic.
On the environmental side, CFFO is concerned about carbon pricing. Farmers strongly support care for the environment, and it’s worth looking at the environmental plank in each party’s platform. We are concerned about how carbon pricing will affect farmers and ultimately the price of food. Farmers face an undue burden from carbon pricing models: We believe that producing food is essential and should be exempt from carbon pricing, at least until there are feasible alternatives that can help farmers reduce emissions. We need innovation and development to find those alternatives.
Finally, CFFO is concerned about farm transitions. Most Canadian farmers are between 55-59 and will need support to manage successful farm transitions. We need policies that will help small and medium-sized family farms thrive for the next generations of farmers and for the health of rural communities. We strongly support Bill C-208, the recent amendment to the Income Tax Act that makes it more feasible for families to pass the farm on to their children or grandchildren. We need continued government support for initiatives like this.
Not all of these issues will be directly addressed within the pages of party platforms. But there are still opportunities to bring these concerns directly to candidates, as we race toward election day.