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Wednesday, January 22, 2020
Their View / Opinion

The electorate needs to know farmers are also pro-environment

In these early days after the federal election, there’s a continuous line of fingers wagging at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, telling him he has to work harder than ever to govern Canada with his Liberal minority.

I’m sure he understands that. In fact, following his victory on election night, he told Western Canada he’s heard its frustrations and he wants to be there to support it.

But how he’ll do that is a huge question.

Western Canadians are spitting mad about the election results and feel alienated. A poll by Environics shows more than 70 per cent of Albertans don’t think their province is treated with the respect it deserves, and that’s about 35 per cent higher than the the national average.

I understand their feelings. I lived in Alberta in the 1980s, when western separatism was taking root.

Back then, the West felt Ottawa was stealing Alberta and Saskatchewan oil and gas (if indeed oil can belong to a province), via the doomed National Energy Program under then prime minister Pierre Trudeau.

Now Justin is a target, thanks to his pro-environment platform. That includes the federal carbon tax and what the west considers a lack of support for pipelines to get prairie oil and gas to markets.

But now, Trudeau haters – along with every farmer in Canada, the majority of whom support the Conservatives – need to look at the campaign position the Liberals think got them elected and gavemore prominence to the Green Party and the NDP – that is, Canadians’ concerns about changing climate.

This was a clear policy distinction between the hand-wringing Liberals, who urged Canadians to make it a ballot-box issue, and the Conservatives, who failed to embrace the level of grassroots worry over climate.

Farmers need to pay attention. The electorate – those who are concerned about climate change – are the same people who buy their products. And farmers are vulnerable to climate change criticism from extremists, despite having an excellent story to tell about pro-environment programs they’ve established, like Ontario’s Environmental Farm Plan.

However, like details about concerns in the west over natural resources, their story isn’t being told broadly.

Now’s the time.

Consumers need to understand Canadian farmers’ crucial role in environmental stewardship and sustainability. They need to hear about their contributions to greenhouse gas production and climate change. Consumers’ decision to support homegrown products can highly influence farmers’ livelihood and sustainability, not to mention price. 

That means education is an important part of the way forward, and something that farmers, regardless of their political stripes, can collectively get behind. Because it’s collective action will be needed to not only make the federal government work, but to make consumers realize Canadian agriculture is not an environmental liability.

As Ontario Federation of Agriculture president Keith Currie said, when Canadians cast their ballots Monday and chose a minority government, they sent a signal to politicians about the need for collaboration.

“In the agriculture industry,” he said, “we understand the value of working together towards a common goal, and we look to our elected officials to find common ground, especially when it comes to supporting the economic powerhouse that is Canadian agriculture.”

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