Ag critic recaps the latest on sunset clauses, ag committee business, and sober second thoughts on climate goals vs. food security

(Kara Oosterhuis/RealAgriculture)

It’s a busy time of year in Ottawa and around the world for ministers and for the official critics, too.

John Barlow, Alberta MP for Foothills, spent time in Paris, France, last week attending the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) minister’s meeting. Canada’s federal ag minister, Marie-Claude Bibeau, chaired the meeting.

Now that Barlow is back in Canada, he sat down with RealAg Radio host Shaun Haney to talk about what’s happening at the ag committee, in parliament, and on the global stage for agriculture (Summary is below the player).

Q&A Summary:

This is the third time you’ve been named shadow minister for agriculture. Is this a post you sought out? 

Barlow: Yeah, absolutely. This is a role I’m very passionate about. We’ve built a lot of strong relationships within the stakeholder groups. My team in my office has also really tuned into the agriculture agri-food sector. There was a lot of stuff that a lot of issues that are going on, and some things, some unfinished business. So I definitely wanted to stay in this role, and I’m certainly honoured and privileged that Pierre Poilievre saw that this is where I was the best fit.

What’s a key focus for yourself and the ag committee through to the end of 2022?

Barlow: We’re on the last legs of Bill 234, which is the carbon tax bill exempting propane and natural gas on farms from the carbon tax from propane and natural gas. So, that’s critical for me; we want to get that through. So we’re very close to getting that through committee, then off to the Senate. And I’m really confident that we’ll we’ll get approval for that.

[The bill] doesn’t have a sunset clause in the current bill… However, it’s pretty clear that the Bloc and the NDP want to add that as an amendment. And we’re supportive of that. As long as there’s enough time and there is a realistic timeframe for that technology and that innovation to become economically and commercially viable. I firmly believe that technology will be there at some point in time. We’re just not there yet. So we are working with our NDP and Bloc colleagues to form that amendment.

Since the ministers’ meeting in July, it’s been kind of quiet on the agriculture policy framework front. What have you been hearing from a committee perspective, when it comes to the next Canadian ag policy framework?

Barlow: It has been pretty quiet even our end. The one contentious issue I think I’ve heard the most from stakeholders, and it’s just a bit of the unknown as connecting access to BRM programs, through, you know, an environmental assessment of some sort. That wording in the current CAP agreement has raised a lot of eyebrows and some concern from stakeholders. You know, what does that look like? So, what is an environmental assessment? Who does it? How comprehensive is that? And why is that being attached to my ability as a farmer to access?

Last week, you were in Paris with the federal agriculture minister at the OECD meetings. What was the purpose and some of the takeaways for you?

Barlow: Every few years, the agriculture ministers of the OECD countries come together to reassess their priorities. They did release a declaration earlier… no big surprises there, but there were certainly some, I would say, contradictions.

The overall theme is they’ve got to improve food production and food yields to address a growing population and growing food insecurity. I think the number in the declaration was increased food production by over 20 percent, but a couple of lines later, they’re also talking about reducing emissions by, you know, 30 percent by 2030. It was interesting having some discussions [with people] from the European Union specifically, and just hearing their concerns about the direction some of the policies are taking them, you know, specifically the Farm to Fork policy. There is some concern that a lot of these policies are not being based on real sound science and data, and more on on politics and activism. There’s going to have to be a hard look at the consequences of some of these initiatives. If your goal is to increase food production to address food security issues around the world, which I think is laudable and something we can do, you can’t remove all the tools for farmers around the world to be able to do that.

Do you think Canada, under the current government, is thinking independently on on this topic or being influenced and led to much by Germany and France, for example?

Barlow: Unfortunately, I think we are following the French, German, EU model much too closely, especially when we see those countries start to have some sober second thought about the direction that they are going. You know, you read the Farm to Fork policy, for example, and one of the topics of discussion in our meetings was the the 25 per cent organic [requirement] and the fertilizer reductions. You know, this, this is not a way to improve soil health and improve yield. It’s quite the opposite, actually.

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