WELLINGTON COUNTY – A question on supply management sparked the most intense exchange during a Sept. 15 online forum for Perth-Wellington candidates in the federal election.
“Quite simply, do you support supply management?” asked moderator Janet Harrop, president of the Wellington Federation of Agriculture, which hosted the virtual candidates meeting.
People’s Party of Canada candidate Wayne Baker responded that his party wants “to phase out” supply management.
“We wanted to do it in a fair and equitable fashion. We need to look at the actual overhead the farmers are required to carry … this massive overhead with regard to quota, which negatively impacts, number one, the farming operation in terms of actual equity required to produce the commodity,” said Baker.
“There’s also a negative impact when that cost is carried forward to the consumer. There’s a layer of control that … has very nasty implications.”
Baker continued, “We only need read Michael Schmidt’s book on raw milk (Raw Milk and the Search for Human Kindness: Overcoming Fear and Complacency, published in 2017), and to see how nasty our police state really is. It’s interesting that he’s been like a canary in the mineshaft with regards to our police state approach to outliers. And we’re seeing farmers like dairy farmers, specifically if they over-produce, they’ve got a little bit of leeway for their overproduction, but it is a very common thing for dairy farmers to dump milk.
“And we can’t figure out how to take that food and give it to people that are food insecure? There’s something seriously wrong.”
“You know it’s almost comical to hear the People’s Party talk about supply management,” said Conservative candidate John Nater, the incumbent MPP for the riding.
“All I can say is thank goodness that (PPC leader) Maxine Bernier (a former federal Conservative cabinet minister) was never the trade minister. I could not even imagine him in a trade negotiation on supply management – just saying, ‘Hey, take it all!’ and giving it all away because that’s exactly what Maxine Bernier would have done.”
Nater added, “I spoke with Dairy Farmers of Ontario earlier today and in the last year and a half during the world pandemic, twice, twice they had to dump milk.”
Nater said milk was dumped at the very beginning of the pandemic, “because the capacity simply wasn’t there,” and the second time occurred a few weeks ago, when 22 farmers in Huron County dumped milk due to a breakdown in production at a processing plant.
“There is not this wide-scale dumping of milk and that’s the nonsense that we’re hearing. Dividing farm communities does nothing for anyone,” Nater continued.
“We need firm families doing well in all aspects of agriculture, whether it’s supply management, whether it’s not … There are only two per cent of Canadians who are actually farmers. So when we start dividing them, we start this nonsense of pitting one farmer against another, it’s ridiculous.”
Later, as part of his response to another question, Baker fired back.
“Every dairy farmer worth his salt knows that they’ve been forced to dump milk. So Mr. Nater is totally incorrect with … talking about milk dumping as being a non-issue. It’s a major issue with the dairy farmers,” Baker said.
“Also … Mr. Nater is talking about dividing the agriculture community. I’d like to know where he’s getting that from? The People’s Party of Canada is not a divisive party. We’re about working together … If anything, there’s a division right now between supply management and non-supply-managed operations.”
“I personally do support supply management and the Liberal Party has shown that they do as well, most recently … by standing up to our largest trading partner, when there was a requirement to make the new NAFTA,” said Liberal candidate Brendan Knight in response to the supply management question.
“I fully support supply management and will continue to with any future trade deals that come forward.”
“The NDP is the party of supply management,” said NDP candidate Kevin Kruchkywich.
“We believe that it works. We believe it does good work at levelling the playing field. And we believe that if there is a level playing field that Canadians will choose the better products, which are Canadian products.
“So it’s a it’s a pretty simple answer for us. Yes, we support supply management.”
Addressing the issue of a lack of skilled workers in the agricultural sector, candidates were asked how they would support worker programs (such as the Seasonal Agricultural Worker and Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) programs), while also encouraging domestic entry into skilled agricultural training in order to meet workforce shortages.
“The challenge right now is we’re using temporary programs like the Temporary Foreign Worker program to address a long-term challenge, long-term problem, that’s the labor shortage,” said Nater.
“So we need to renew and review how those TFW programs work so that there is a path to citizenship, so that those who come to Canada to seek a new life, to seek a better life and to contribute to our economy, contribute to our country, have the option of pursuing citizenship here in Canada, when they come here through the temporary foreign worker program.”
He added, “We also need to be working with different sectors, different stakeholders, including organizations like the University of Guelph, almost in our backyard. One of their studies from the Ontario Agricultural College said there’s one graduate for every four jobs. It’s a huge opportunity there, so incentivizing entry into the workforce is something we need to include as part of a labour market strategy specifically for agriculture, which is included in our policy platform for this election.
“We need to be encouraging skilled trades … not specifically for the agriculture industry, but certainly it’s a huge part of it. So incentives and rebates for those who are entering apprenticeship programs ensure that we get the next generation of skilled trades here in Canada.”
Baker said the concept of a skilled workforce is “near and dear to my heart.
“I’m a skilled tradesman myself and and we do need a good, robust, skilled workforce, especially when we’re getting into the higher tech aspects of farming. Whether it be crop equipment tractors, seeders, or whether it be the farm management equipment – there’s a huge, huge skill set, needed to do that.”
Baker also said a path to citizenship for foreign workers is needed.
“We really need to look at that quite seriously,” he stated.
Baker described a situation with two foreign workers he knows would start work about 4:30am.
“And if the production didn’t go well that day, they would stay until 8:30, nine o’clock at night,” he said.
“And the poor guys would just be dragging their backsides, but they knew they had to do it because they had to support families.
“We need the same work ethic here.”
Baker continued, “We need to instil that same work ethic in our Canadian population. We seem to think that sitting on CERB is an appropriate way to generate a living and generate wealth, but it’s completely wrong … we need to somehow come up with the same work ethic and that would solve a lot of our issues.”
Knight said the Liberals “are bringing forward some new or enhanced programs this time around to address this issue, “which is acute.”
He said such programs include a labour strategy “which gives a pathway from temporary foreign workers to permanent residents,” as well as an economic mobility pathway pilot project for refugees, and also a trusted employer program for producers “in order to make it easier to streamline application for companies for temporary foreign workers to fill those shortages.”
“But I think this issue also is bigger than just some of these programs,” said Knight.
“It’s an issue of affordability and access to services. And I think that’s why it’s important that we’re putting forward a very robust, affordable housing strategy that has some many different facets to it, but some of it is geared towards young people being able to enter the housing market and then affordable daycare.
“Getting daycare lower than what it costs for the payment on your house is a very crucial decision for families to decide what they can afford and where they can go and afford it,” Knight explained.
He said access to doctors and nurses is also key for people looking to locate in the areas, and noted the Liberals are “putting money towards hiring 7,500 new doctors and nurses.
“So I think it’s a suite of different things to help both short term and long term,” he stated.
Kruchkywich said the NDP feels the TFP program is “a necessary program.
However, he added, “We are against it as a way to bypass standards or to suppress wages by removing jobs from Canadians. We want to make sure that that’s not what is happening.”
Kruchkywich also said it should be easier for temporary workers to become Canadians.
“We very much believe that if they are good enough to come and work for us, that they are good enough to live here and we want a path to citizenship for people who come and work our land with us and for us,” he stated.
In terms of attracting skilled works to the local area, Kruchywich said, “We need to make it an attractive place to be.
“We will invest, with our new green infrastructure, in job training. We have dedicated money for that. But we need to make sure that Perth-Wellington is an attractive place to be.”
Kruchkywich said that means affordable housing, and accessible, affordable child care.
“Obviously we’re also offering universal pharmacare, universal mental and dental care. So that takes costs off their plate, but it needs to be an affordable place for them to come and live and right now I think the biggest impediment for workers coming here is that there is no place for them,” he said.
“So we need to create homes and space and make it attractive for them to come and work with us,” he stated.
During closing statements Knight said he is proud the Liberal government “has stepped up and fulfilled its commitments for the sector to protect it from outside forces,” through trade deals and also “to invest and to create more markets to better provide opportunities for our producers to get their products in more markets.”
But first, he said, “we have to fight against COVID-19 and make the investments to finish this fight, while we also tackle climate change.
“Really it’s about reinvesting in our great agricultural communities and farms, so that they can be part of what is this great challenge of climate change and climate readiness, and also thrive and be more viable,” he added.
During his closing remarks, Baker strayed from the meeting’s agricultural focus.
“There’s no such thing as a benevolent government, only varying degrees of malevolence,” he said.
“If you believe, as I do, that the malevolence factor of our federal government is through the roof, then it is incumbent on you to vote for freedom, vote for strength, vote for a legacy you can be proud of.”
In his own closing remarks, Nater took direct aim at Baker’s assertions.
“Despite all the challenges that we may face here in Canada and as Canadians, there is no place in the world I would rather have lived than in here in Canada,” said Nater.
He noted he was disappointed “to hear some people talk down on our country and to talk negatively about it.
“We can disagree on policy … but to state that there is some kind of malevolence out there on the part of anyone?” he continued.
“In the past 18 months I believe strongly that Canadians have come together to do what they needed to do to fight against COVID-19. It hasn’t been easy. Would I have liked to see changes? Absolutely.
“But to cast aspersions on all those who are working hard every day in our health care system and across our country to keep Canadians safe I think is disappointing and is not reflective of what we ought to embrace as those seeking elected office.”
Nater also addressed the need for improved rural infrastructure, including high speed internet service.
Kruchywich, who described himself as “a working class guy,” said, “For 154 years, two parties have swapped the leadership of this country back and forth, back and forth, until finally, we find ourselves here.”
He noted he has had “many different jobs” including as an actor who has “played on some of the largest and some of the smallest stages across Canada.”
Together with his wife, who runs a small boutique, Kruchywich said “we used to be able to get by and have time for our family and our friends.
“But now, here, where we find ourselves after years of inaction by our government, we are legitimately struggling, as I know a lot of you are. Life is not affordable. It’s not affordable anymore.”
Kruchywich noted it’s often said working Canadians are falling through the cracks.
“Well now the foundation that we’re standing on, the very foundation that our government has told us is solid, it’s crumbling under our feet. And the only party that will roll up their sleeves and get to work at that foundational level is the NDP and Jagmeet Singh is the only leader with the courage and the honesty to tackle these issues,” he said.
“And I feel I’m the only one who has the ability to understand and work with the changing demographics of Perth-Wellington.
“We have many seniors, but we are quickly getting younger and more diverse, And we have an abundance of strong manufacturing jobs but we are seeing a multitude of small artisanal businesses popping up. And we are a vibrant rural riding, but we also have a world class artistic institution that anchors a very strong tourist industry.”
“All of that takes a special approach, one that involves conversations and listening, leading with compassion and putting people first. That’s what I’ll do,” he said.
The entire candidates meeting can be viewed on the Wellington Federation of Agriculture Facebook page.