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They’re Off And Running

I didn’t think the Federal budget was so bad. Certainly the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) was pretty excited by the budget’s emphasis on agriculture research and innovation. With the money announced for Beef Cluster research and the CCA’s Beef InfoXchange System before the budget, the $50 million for knowledge creation and transfer in the budget was clear evidence that support would continue on these programs for another two years.

Continued efforts to gain greater access to markets for the beef industry were alluded to in the commentary and the government’s willingness to conclude a new trade agreement with the European Union was also noted in the budget.

There was nothing particularly new in it but it did show the Tory minority government was going to hold to the course it has set for our industry over the past few years.

Of course, as things panned out, it was all for not. It was a pretty good bet that this budget would never see the light of day given the mood on the hill in Ottawa. Now that the election has been called for May 2, budget certainties become election uncertainties as Canada heads for its fourth election in seven years.

Can we assume these budget promises will be part of the Tory’s agriculture platform of what they will deliver if given a majority in the next Parliament, or put back into the driver’s seat in another minority government? That was unknown as this issue went to press as the election had just been called. But the early rhetoric from Prime Minister Stephen Harper suggested these promises would appear again, if the Conservatives prevailed.

The immediate concern is not for what was promised but what was being delayed or halted by the election.

From the cattlemen’s point of view the election call was poorly timed as it could interfere with the ongoing negotiations with South Korea over an import protocol for Canadian beef similar to what the U.S. received.

A ruling by the World Trade Organization panel looking into this dispute is expected this month. At the same time negotiations were continuing with the South Koreans to come up with a negotiated agreement before the panel ruled on one side or the other. Canada appears to have a strong case based on the BSE rules set down by the World Organization for Animal Health, so the potential impact of a negative panel verdict was always seen as a key pressure point in talks with the Koreans.

Just before the politicians saddled up, the Yonhap news agency reported that Canada and South Korea were near to signing an agreement. Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz in a post-budget press conference allowed that a deal was very close. He also said Canada and China were close to wrapping up their import protocol. Both deals are vital to Canadian beef producers.

Anything that slows down those negotiations would be unfortunate, so one has to wonder if South Korean and Chinese trade officials will wait to see what the Government of Canada looks like before they sign.

Elections also create opportunities for voters to exert some influence. Certainly every candidate in rural Ontario will be quizzed about the new insurance-type risk management plan designed by beef and pork producers. Ontario’s agriculture minister established the plan with the province’s 40 per cent of the funding and invited Ottawa to contribute its 60 per cent.

This plan was not mentioned in Ottawa’s now-dead budget and Ontario’s beef and pork producers were quick to voice their dissatisfaction. Ag minister Gerry Ritz appeared to brush off the plan during his press conference but he might yet come to regret that comment. It seems certain that his colleagues in Ontario will wish that he’d left them some negotiating room on this topic.

The CCA was drawing up its list of items to present to the candidates riding by riding as this issue went to press. Ethanol subsidies are bound to fit in there somewhere. At its annual meeting in Ottawa last month the CCA established a clear lobbying policy on biofuels.

As Travis Toews explains in his CCA column this month, government incentives have now grown the biofuel industry to the point where it may become a threat to another resource-based industry, cattle production. In response the CCA will be asking Ottawa to start turning biofuels into a market-based industry. They are also seeking safeguards from Ottawa to protect the cattle industry in the event of crop shortages.

There can’t be a better time to ask then now when every federal politician has his or her hand out looking for votes.

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Thepros andconsof anunwanted election

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Gren Winslow

Gren Winslow is a past editor of Canadian Cattlemen.

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