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Tyler McCann: Agri-food should be in the driver’s seat of a post pandemic recovery

In this photo taken using a drone, a farmer crops a field in Mississippi Mills, Ont., on Tuesday, Aug 10, 2021. Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press.

Over the coming days, The Hub will publish mandate letters for the incoming cabinet ministers that set out a series of bold policy prescriptions that would cumulatively tilt Canadian politics towards a different and better future.

The best antidote to anger and frustration is aspiration and purpose. The campaign has demonstrated how urgently Canada’s body politic needs such a remedy. There’s no time to waste. It’s time to get to work.

Dear Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food,

I am honoured that you have agreed to serve Canadians as the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food.

As you know, our government must have a both a short- and long-term orientation. The immediate priority is to help the country through the COVID-19 pandemic and to catalyse a post-pandemic recovery. Getting Canadian businesses and families to the other end of this crisis is the key to restoring stability and optimism in our economy and society.

Beyond that, over the long term, we face many opportunities and challenges including geopolitical instability, aging demographics, climate change, reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, long-term fiscal challenges, low productivity, and slow growth.

Each of these issues could easily consume a government’s attention, focus, and resources. But we do not have the luxury of prioritizing one or some of them. They require similar levels of energy and ambition if we are to lay the foundation for a different and better future for Canadians.

An emphasis on the future is a much-needed antidote to the growing anxiety and pessimism in our country. Even before the pandemic, too many Canadians worried that their children will not have the same opportunities and living standards as them. The pandemic has exacerbated these concerns and cast a pall of uncertainty over our economy and society.

In this context, Canadians have grown skeptical of the ability of government to put aside partisan differences or short-term political advantage and make the hard yet necessary choices to mitigate our long-term challenges and accentuate our opportunities. It is incumbent on us to prove to Canadians that their skepticism and doubt is unwarranted. We must rebuild their trust through our actions and choices.

This principle extends to all aspects of governance. Our government must live up to the highest ethical standards, including openness, honesty, and accountability. I expect you to reflect these values in your work. It is critical that we honour Canadians’ trust in us and the history and dignity of the institutions and roles that we occupy.

Our immediate policy priorities flow from the best ideas and rooted in evidence. As the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, I would ask that you work with your colleagues to deliver on the following key priorities:

  • Develop a strategy, in coordination with your cabinet colleagues, that puts Canada’s agri-food system in the driver’s seat of a post pandemic recovery, ensuring that all government departments are committed to unlocking agri-foods full growth potential.
  • In everything you do, embed four key actions needed to build a stronger agri-food system: systems approaches, strategic thinking, public-private partners and aspirational leadership.
  • Increase value added agriculture through a national strategy and a federal value-added fund to attract internationally competitive food processing facilities that serve domestic and international markets.
  • Make Canada a world leader in the future of food and productive, sustainable agriculture by:
    • Changing Canada’s agri-food innovation culture by incenting risk taking, commercialization and scaling up of Canadian and non-Canadian R&D.
    • Increasing public investments in R&D to a target of 2% of farm cash receipts.
    • Working with partners to increase private R&D and commercialization investments.
    • Modernizing regulations to make it easier to do research and bring products to market.
  • Work with the Minister of International Trade to grow agri-food exports by:
    • Building a coalition of agri-food exporting nations to remove impediments to agri-food trade and advocate for sustainable food production.
    • Ensuring Canada fully benefits from existing FTAs by removing remaining non-tariff barriers, developing trade enabling solutions and investing to ensure Canada can leverage the market access.
  • Develop a roadmap to a competitive net-zero agri-food system by:
    • Embracing agriculture’s role as a nature-based climate solution, recognizing the need to sustainably intensify production to protect global food security.
    • Investing in solutions that lead to concrete emission reductions, increase carbon sequestration, promote biodiversity, and protect water.
    • Advocating for international standards and metrics that ensure Canadian agriculture is on a level playing field.
  • Work with your provincial counterparts to revitalize the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Agriculture Policy Framework. A modern APF must:
    • Enable governments to provide meaningful and timely responses when farmers and food processors are impacted by disasters caused by factors outside their control.
    • Replace business risk management programs that do not deliver effective risk management with solutions developed with producers and the private sector.
    • Deliver a competitive, sustainable national agri-food system by forcing collaboration and coordination between governments and removing interprovincial barriers.
  • Work with the Minister of Health to maintain the credibility of Canada’s standard setting processes by:
    • Ensuring decisions are grounded in science, risk-based and are clearly explained.
    • Removing politics and public perception as factors influencing the regulation of agri-food products.
    • Establishing a directive to prioritize harmonization of standards with international standard setting bodies where possible.
  • Work with the Ministers of Transport and Infrastructure to make it easier to get Canadian food to consumers in Canada and around the world by:
    • Developing a long-term investment plan to address transportation risks and bottlenecks.
    • Return to Extended Interswitching to increase competition in rail shipping and consider mandating large scale interchanges at strategic locations across Canada.
  • Address agri-food’s acute and chronic labour shortage by:
    • Making immediate changes that provide an improved path to permanent residency
    • Developing an action plan to make Canada a world leader in agri-food robotics and automation.

I know I can count on you to fulfill these responsibilities and help to deliver a different and better future rooted in prosperity and opportunity for all Canadians.

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