A coalition of farm and environmental groups wants Quebec’s government to pick up the pace of ag reform in the province and follow the recommendations of its own commission on the future of farming in the province.
The Coalition SOS-Pronovost, members of which include the Coalition pour un Quebec des regions, the provincial consumers’ union, Avenue Bio de l’Est and Greenpeace, wants the Charest government to move on what it sees as key recommendations from the Commission sur l’avenir de l’agriculture et de l’agroalimentaire quebecois (CAAAQ).
The commission, chaired by former senior provincial bureaucrat Jean Pronovost, released its report in February 2008 in which it described the province’s agriculture and agri-food sector as “literally suffocating” under the weight of its regulations, systems and structures.
Pronovost, whose report had been anticipated since Premier Jean Charest launched the commission in mid-2006, urged the creation of new dialogues within the ag sector and within “civil society” in general on consumers’ emerging demands.
He also proposed new systems focused on health and healthy eating, and that would encourage new products, new methods, new and diversified food processing, young people entering the profession, and “pluralism in agricultural organizations” — more specifically, by ending the monopoly of the Union des producteurs agricoles (UPA) as the province’s farmer organization.
The report’s recommendations offer an opportunity for the province, the coalition said, and to let that pass without action may mean saying farewell to Quebec agriculture and to food sovereignty for the province.
Coalition SOS-Pronovost, in a letter last week to Charest, described its members as disturbed by the signals coming from the provincial government in recent months regarding the matters outlined in the CAAAQ report.
For example, the coalition members said Charest has given his approval to a bipartite committee between the province and UPA, which the coalition said essentially gives UPA a sort of right to veto any reform measures it opposes.
More recently, the coalition said, Agriculture Minister Laurent Lessard has named Laval University ag economist Michel Morriset, who the coalition describes as a “notorious” Pronovost opponent, as a consultant on future ag policy.
In its letter to Charest, the coalition said it wished to remind Quebecers that the CAAAQ report did not call for an end to intensive or industrial agriculture in the province, nor did it call for an end to government supports for Quebec farmers.
The coalition also called for discussion over ag policy stemming from the CAAAQ report, as well as from the more recent Michel Saint-Pierre report on farm supports, to be more publicly open and transparent. These debates, the coalition said, now take place behind closed doors, far from consumers, citizens and the farm gate.
Lessard, in a separate release Friday that didn’t mention the coalition’s criticisms, said the Pronovost report urged a progressive approach that allowed for sober reflection and for the time needed to best act on the reforms the CAAAQ judged to be essential.
That’s exactly the way in which the province, with respect for all involved, has acted on the report and will continue to do so, Lessard said.