Government Support for Agriculture in Canada

Not Always Helpful But Most Always Political

By Will Verboven, Contributing Editor

Most folks agree that Canadians and Americans are similar from a cultural and socio-economic perspective. We share the same Judeo-Christian roots in our capitalist societies, so our people and economies tend to blend in easily. The cattle and beef industry is a prime example of such an integrated North American economic sector.

One difference is our governance system. Although stemming from the same British tradition, it has evolved differently in both countries. Our federal and provincial governments adhere to the British parliamentary monarchy system, which in Canada means we maintain the antiquated and embarrassing governing structure whereby a British Queen is our head of government. The reason it matters is because that parliamentary structure and the constitutional form of the Canadian federation affects how governments run up here in the Great White North.

The 10 provinces that make up Canada are constitutionally and administratively more powerful and independent than American states. That’s a sure-fire recipe for federal-provincial governments to argue and wrangle over who is responsible for what services. The only agreement is that the Canadian federal government is responsible for foreign affairs, trade, currency, borders and the military. The rest, be it health, education, welfare, etc., is a free-for-all of overlapping and competing jurisdictions, including agriculture.

The provinces see the federal government as setting national standards and as a source of money. The feds, since they control most of the taxes, believe they have the right to decide who and where their largesse will go – that’s probably familiar to American citizens. The bigger problem is Canadian politics. Our national government for most of the past 50 years has been controlled by the Liberal Party. Its present version is a highly progressive, overtly politically correct leftist collective whose power base is in urban centers mostly in eastern Canada. That national party makes Sen. Bernie Sanders and the U.S. Democrats look like right-wing Republicans.

The provinces in Canada, on the other hand, are mostly governed by various right-wing conservative parties. One can see battle lines drawn on pretty well every issue, and agriculture and energy are just two areas of confrontation. The federal Liberal government in Canada has basically no representation in western Canada and little in the rural parts of the rest of the country, so, politically, they could care less about agricultural issues. Therein lies the basis for Canadian federal government neglect of agriculture. Their mindless fixation has been on climate change; those deluded folks have convinced themselves that Canada, with less than 3 percent of the world’s emissions, can save the planet. Need I say more?

That Liberal attitude is reflected in the approach of senior health and agriculture federal bureaucrats who take their cues from their political masters – I expect that would be the same in the United States. For instance, we have seen federal Canadian livestock transportation regulations radically changed because the feds state they have to reflect the perspectives of city folks, including vegetarians. It boggles the mind.

During the pandemic, agriculture in Canada received $252 million in aid from the feds when they should have received $2 billion. Compare that to American government aid to agriculture of $19 billion. In the absence of adequate federal support of the ag industry in general, the Canadian provinces are obliged to step in to develop and support the industry, one that is vital to the Canadian economy. The latest example is the feedlot sector in Alberta, which is close to collapsing as hundreds of thousands of fed cattle are backed up due to the closure of plants because of the pandemic. If the past BSE outbreak is any reminder, such a backlog will take years to resolve. The feds seem oblivious to the impending crisis.

The Canadian federal government has taken some good actions. Canada has a national ID program for cattle, hogs and sheep. They have also created credible humane national codes of practice for livestock and poultry production. They have vigorously supported dairy and poultry supply management, a price and quota marketing system that is the envy of American independent dairy and poultry producers. But then again, the Canadian government is prone to give away agriculture concessions in free-trade agreements. Many producers in Canada admire how the American President stands up for ag exports against Chinese and European trade machinations and mischief.

One muses about the role of government in the agriculture sector, but in Canada, politics seems to thwart common sense and hope. An overriding factor in Canada and I expect in the United States is that food production is taken for granted, and government indifference reflects that urban attitude. More next time.