WASHINGTON, Oct. 21, 2015 - Canada’s Liberal Party won an unexpected majority in Parliament Monday as voters spurned a decade of Conservative Party rule, at least in part on the Liberal campaign promise to borrow at low interest rates for investment in infrastructure spending to jump-start economic recovery.
While the new government to be formed by Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau portends a change in economic and fiscal policy, it is not likely to see much change in trade and agriculture. During the campaign, the Liberals came down on the side of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) while criticizing the Conservative government for negotiating behind closed doors. The Liberals also endorsed the Canadian challenge to U.S. mandatory country-of-origin labeling for meat.
“The Liberal Party has been supporting open trade and trade agreements in the past,” Andrew Dickson, general manager of the Manitoba Pork Council, told Agri-Pulse. “I don’t see that changing. Like the previous government, they will argue very strongly for Canada’s case over country-of-origin labeling. We don’t see any change at this moment in time.”
A Liberal Party statement earlier this month said the TPP “stands to remove trade barriers, widely expand free trade for Canada, and increase opportunities for our middle class and those working hard to join it.” It said that Conservatives “failed to be transparent . . . especially in regards to what Canada is conceding in order to be accepted into this partnership.”
The Liberals said their government would hold “a full and open public debate in Parliament to ensure Canadians are consulted on this historic trade agreement” and promised to “defend Canadian interests during the TPP’s ratification process – which includes defending supply management, our auto sector and Canadian manufacturers across the country.”
In an Oct. 9 letter to the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, the Liberal Party president said the government needs a strategy to take advantage of trade agreements. “For instance, the prospect of European demand for non-hormone fed beef requires a strategy to ensure that we have the processing capacity to meet those demands,” the letter said. “A Liberal government will be committed to working with our beef cattle sector to grow our beef exports.”
The letter pledged “an aggressive response to ensure that the United States adheres to the ruling of the WTO,” the Liberal letter said. It went on: “The Conservatives have already failed with the country-of-origin labeling with the United States, and it is costing our livestock industry billions. It constitutes nothing more than a trade infringement on a long established bilateral trade arrangement.”
The party platform promised increased federal spending on an Agri-Food Value Added Investment Fund “to help provide technical and marketing assistance to processors for the development of new products” and more money for agricultural research and food safety.
Defense of supply management – the system of quotas regulating production of milk, eggs and poultry – is ingrained in Canada’s Liberal Party. Marketing boards for supply-managed commodities were introduced in the 1970s when Justin Trudeau’s father, Pierre Trudeau, was prime minister. The late Eugene Whelan, agriculture minister in the first Trudeau government from 1972-84, claimed in his autobiography, “We made the dairy industry in Canada probably the most productive and economically the most stable of any dairy industry in the world.” He also expressed pride in extending the marketing systems to eggs, chickens and turkeys.
The election will mean new ministers for agriculture and trade. Gerry Ritz, the farm minister in the Conservative cabinet, was easily re-elected to Parliament from his Saskatchewan district, and Ed Fast, the outgoing trade minister, won his re-election in British Columbia. Although Prime Minister Stephen Harper will step down as Conservative leader, Ritz and Fast appear leading choices to be opposition spokesmen in the Conservative “shadow cabinet.”
Potential replacements are Liberal agriculture critic Mark Eyking, a Nova Scotia vegetable grower who studied sustainable agriculture at the University of California-Davis, and Liberal international trade critic Chrystia Freeland, who had a distinguished international career in journalism before her election to Parliament in November 2013. She is a former Financial Times deputy editor and Moscow bureau chief and editor-at-large of Thomson Reuters. Trudeau also could call on former farm minister Ralph Goodale, who was re-elected from Saskatchewan and Mark Easter, a former first secretary in the agriculture ministry, from Prince Edward Island.
Eyking said last week that a Liberal government would “defend Canadian fruit and vegetable producers by resolving the entirely avoidable dispute with the United States over its Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act (PACA).” He said Canadian producers lost special access to the PACA dispute-resolution system for perishable goods last year after the Conservative government “failed to create a comparable system in the Canadian market.” He promised to consult industry “to create a comparable mechanism in Canada and work with the United States to reinstate the access that our fruit and vegetable exporters had under PACA.”
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