Published by Senator Robert Peterson (retired) on 23 April 2012
As the world's seventh largest arable land area, we are exceptionally placed to profit from this boom in food sales. Canada's economic equivalent of Silicon Valley could run across the Prairies. Yet, for all its posturing, the Conservative government is squandering this opportunity.
Population growth, economic expansion, and changing diets across the developing world are fuelling an unrelenting rise in the demand for food and creating a tremendous opportunity for agricultural powers like Canada.
According to the UN the world's population will reach eight billion in 2028, up from six billion in 1999. The FAO predicts the average daily caloric intake in the developing world will rise by almost 40 per cent, from 2,020 to 2,800 calories a day. The ranks of middle class are set to swell.
As the world's seventh largest arable land area, we are exceptionally placed to profit from this boom in food sales. Canada's economic equivalent of Silicon Valley could run across the Prairies.
Yet, for all its posturing, the Conservative government is squandering this opportunity.
Over six years in power, the Conservatives turned their backs on the economic giants of Asia for years because they saw the region as a "Liberal" priority, opting instead to sign free trade agreements with countries that add up to a measly two per cent of the world economy. Now Canada is playing catch-up in the most important markets on the planet.
The Conservatives spent enormous energy on removing the Canadian Wheat Board's single desk authority, and the CWB's status as a sole marketer of wheat grown in the Prairies. Yet this was a big step backwards. Through its scale and scope, the CWB generated a $600-million bonus which it returned to farmers. It prevented farmers from undercutting each other on price, and it protected them from exploitation by the railway duopoly. The CWB also helped maintain the consistently higher quality of Canadian wheat, building a reputation that secured a premium price in the market. It was hated by the United States and our international competitors—a sure sign of success—yet it was ruled legal in every international trade challenge.
Now the single desk is gone and farmers will be squeezed. Multinationals will play farmers off one another to bid down the price, storing grain in cheap times to force down its price even further. Indeed, the business plans of new entrants—proudly touted by the government—explicitly hinged on lower prices for grain.
The Conservatives have also spent considerable energy hemming and hawing on better regulation of the railways. There was certainly a need for it. Statistics showed farmers and grain companies were getting the services they ordered only about half the time. Shippers in other key sectors of the economy from forestry to retail had the same complaints. Yet for six years—six!—the Conservatives have been promising that their Rail Service Review would address these blatant abuses of market power. The review still shows no signs of taking any tangible action at all. Instead of promising to table long-overdue legislation, the Conservatives are continuing to offer nothing but bafflegab.
The NDP offers no promise of better economic stewardship. They have voted against every trade deal ever presented in Parliament, and are set to shutter our doors instead of opening new ones. This leaves Canadian farmers with much dreary leadership on the federal level.
So how can the government help Canadian farmers realize the potential of the boom in demand for food? It's simple: only the Liberal Party will offer a balance that will open new markets for our agricultural products, introduce balanced legislation to improve our railway service for all shippers, and protect the interests of all Canada's farmers. It is high time that we fought shoulder-to-shoulder in world agriculture markets—and won!
Saskatchewan Liberal Sen. Robert Peterson is his party's Senate agriculture and agri-food critic.