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Huge farm support arrives just hours before election call

Journalists rarely get news releases from the federal government on Sunday, especially for big ticket, multi-million-dollar announcements. Those are typically reserved for weekdays, accompanied by a photo opportunity, when the news cycle is fully operational and editors are paying attention.

But this past Sunday, in a last-ditch effort to support drought-stricken farmers and landowners in western Canada and Northern Ontario, Ottawa announced it had raised its contribution to drought and wildfire relief programs from $100 million to $500 million. They news came just hours before the launch of the federal election campaign.

Had the government not moved quickly, it would have been dissolved and support would have been delayed at least a month, until after the September 20 election. That could have been tragic, given how help is needed immediately.

Critics will call the assistance an eleventh-hour Liberal attempt to woo the farm sector. But the money had been in the works for weeks. It followed a recent visit to western Canada’s devasted prairie grain and oilseed fields by then-agriculture minister Marie-Claude Bibeau.

I say nicely done. Instead of criticism, those in Bibeau’s office and elsewhere in the federal bureaucracy who worked to make sure the money was in place before the election was called deserve praise for their effort.

And while it’s the last federal money farmers will see from the former government, it’s just the start of proposed climate-related programs and promises they and the rest of Canada can expect to hear about in the coming weeks.

Farmers aren’t leaving candidates guessing about their interests.

On Monday, the Grain Farmers of Ontario unveiled what it called its election “asks” (not demands), likewise reflecting climate concerns.

The organization, representing Ontario’s 28,000 barley, corn, oat, soybean, and wheat farmers, said it has an eye to the future.But it also has its feet on the ground, and wants the fuel grain farmers use to dry their corn to be exempt from the carbon tax until fossil fuel alternatives are developed.

Grain farmers are also calling on candidates and the government they might form to defend Canada’s existing markets and find new markets for grains and oilseeds.The organization’s CEO Crosby Devitt says Ontario grains can’t compete with grains imported into Canada that receive massive subsidies and aren’t subject to carbon pricing.

“This is the time for candidates to show leadership and their commitment to science-based and evidence-based decision making to ensure the most sustainable, and the most effective, climate change policy and path forward,” he says. “Working with farmers and supporting these asks is acknowledging the importance of sustainable farming and the farm economy that supports this country.”

Likewise, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture’s president Mary Robinson reminded candidates about agriculture’s role in the country’s economic recovery.

“Canadian agriculture has been repeatedly identified by the government and financial institutions as a sector that can achieve incredible growth,” she says. “Our natural resources are one of Canada’s strongest foundations. Yet consecutive governments have failed to provide any kind of increase in consistent funding to actually achieve this growth, failing to even keep up with inflation. Farming and food production is truly an essential industry, and we need to see actions that support and propel the industry to new heights.”

All sectors are saying something similar. But agriculture is different, supplying the country with one of its most basic needs on a relative shoestring.

Let’s not forget the food insecurity scare of the pandemic.

And let’s not overlook what’s happening on farms across Canada right now, as they grapple with climate change. They need stability more than ever, and as long as we rely on farms for food, governments need to support them.

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