All Trade is Local
Last week I was in Mexico City and Washington talking with elected officials and industry about NAFTA and the importance of trade. Once again, I was reminded by how important agriculture is to the Canadian economy and to our local economy in Durham. With some of the fiery rhetoric coming out of the White House on NAFTA, I am confident that the cooler heads in Congress on the agriculture committee and in state legislatures dependent on agriculture will push hard to ensure NAFTA is renegotiated and not eliminated. The importance of agriculture leads me to write my latest column to dispel a few myths and underscore the strategic importance of agriculture in Canada and in Durham.
Reading some of the media coverage on NAFTA negotiations you might think that Canada’s system of supply management for dairy, poultry and turkey sectors might be a large stumbling block to trade negotiations, but that is not the case. The PC governments of Brian Mulroney negotiated the US Free Trade Agreement and the subsequent NAFTA agreement without sacrificing these sectors and I am confident that Canada can do so today. We simply have a different approach to these sectors and the US recognized that and determined that supply management did not adversely impact their own domestic sectors. Unlike grain and oil seeds and even meat that could be frozen for shipping, commodities like eggs and milk were generally not fit to be shipped long distances. While the United States has used a series of direct government subsidies to support agriculture, Canada chose another path decades ago. Working with producers, Canada regulated supply of the commodity and set amounts of production and price. This avoided the previous practice of government bail outs caused by the impact of over-supply and price drops that impacted family farms. Since two generations of farming families have structured their affairs around this system, we must continue to work with them and not against them.
Agriculture policies in all countries also involve two critical issues that can be overlooked by some, but that I consider to be critical to my role as Member of Parliament for a long-standing agriculture region of Ontario. The first issue is the viability of the family farm and ensuring that policies – from regulation to tax policy – understand and respect the family structure of the farm. The recent small business tax changes announced by the Liberal government did not anticipate the impact on the family farm. In the most perverse way, the tax changes would have encouraged a farming family to sell their farm to a third party corporation rather than their son or daughter because of changes to capital gains. Most farming operations are built upon the successful and time proven system of the family farm and we must not lose sight of that.
Last week, hundreds of people from farming families and the Ag sector across the Durham Region gathered in Port Perry for the 4th annual Celebrate Agriculture Gala. Never has the importance of the family farm been more evident than at this Gala, which recognized 133 farm families in Durham who have been farming steadily in our community since 1867. The Canada150 Durham Farm Connections Heritage project highlighted 22 farm families from Uxbridge, 36 from Scugog, 40 from Clarington, 20 from Brock and 15 from Oshawa, Whitby, Ajax and Pickering.
In many ways, our communities and our country grew up around these family farms and they continue to provide both the produce and character that make our communities a great place to live. Algoma, Wilmot, Loa-De-Mede, the Ashton Farm, Swain Farms, Almet Farms, Altona Lea Farms, Cedardale – these are just some of the names of the farms that are so well known in our community and the families feed our communities, employ people and give back throughout the year.
The second critical issue to consider in agriculture is often overlooked and that is food security for the country. While trade can ensure that we can get fresh produce year round when our domestic seasons end, all countries recognize that it is the strategic national interest of the country to maintain the ability to feed your own population. I still remember my late Grandmother, who moved to Canada from England after the war, showing me her ration books used during World War II and for several years afterward. Global events in the future could limit trade, so it is critical for a country like Canada to maintain domestic food production at reasonable levels.
While the farms are much larger today and far more technology intensive than generations before, the family is still at the core of our farms and we must always keep that in mind. I also hope that the common sense and practical approach of those in the agriculture sector and our warm history with the United States influences NAFTA negotiations to make sure that we make hay when the sun is shining like any good farming family does – and get the deal done.