Yes We Can: Canadian Farm Country Turns Blue/Bleu With Nov 4th Looming Large

One thing I’ve learned over 22 years writing this column, is to never even give a whiff of an opinion about either my voting preferences or how I think farmers should vote.  So with the Conservatives being returned with 143 seats last Monday, it is what it is.  For at least the next 18 months, Stephen Harper, Stephane Dion, Jack Layton and Gillies Duceppe will try to get along.  Canadian agricultural policy will hang in the balance.

Prices for commodities are less than half what they were last June and July.  Events have gone so fast, policy makers like farmers have been only spectators.  However, what is manifesting itself in the American election campaign will surely be affecting us here.    When I see John McCain proudly stand up and say he doesn’t believe in the ethanol subsidies and goes further by saying he’d import Brazilian ethanol, it makes me uncomfortable.  As every Canadian farmer knows, when the US makes an important agricultural policy decision, its effects in Canada are magnified.

In the third Presidential debate I was very heartened by John McCain bringing up Canada.  As always the “foreign oil” bogeyman reared its ugly head during the debate.  I was expecting either Obama or McCain to start talking about buying oil from the Middle East.  Instead McCain berated Obama for saying that he’d wanted to open up NAFTA, claiming the Canadians said if that happens, they (we) would sell our oil to China.

For Canadians watching that was a bit of a seminal moment, mainly because we are so used to our American friends ignoring us.  However, that foreign Canadian oil is probably the most important part of the NAFTA treaty to our American friends.  It gives them total unrestricted access to our energy resources.  However, I think when Americans think NAFTA, they think Mexico.  Unfortunately, too often, that causes problems for Canada, the American’s best ally in the world.

So on November 4th Americans make a historic choice.  It’ll either be the first African-American President or the first female Vice President.  It’ll also be a pick between what our Americans call the conservative choice versus the liberal choice.  Whatever choice is made, the ramifications for Canadian agriculture will be great.

For instance what happens to the American RFS standards (Renewable Fuel Standards) after November 4th.  Sometimes when I listen to McCain, I think he’s the guy with the voice of change.  From my Canadians perspective a McCain Presidency would dismantle the American RFS.  However, it wouldn’t be easy because he’d need congressional approval.  Nonetheless the Presidency is influential and with a little luck, he might get it done.  The resultant contraction in the American Corn Belt and by extension in Ontario and Quebec would be enormous.

On the other hand, I’ve always thought an Obama Presidency would be agriculture friendly.  In my own naive Canadian way, I thought a guy from Illinois would be committing political suicide by being anti-ethanol.  However, even though he’s from Illinois (a bit of a stretch) he doesn’t say the dirty phrase, “corn ethanol” very much.  He talks about moving toward cellulosic ethanol and a whole host of other agricultural buzzwords.  It sounds to me he might be friendlier to American RFS standards than McCain, but not by very much.

Whatever happens we’ve got a bit of foreign exchange deja vu.  An 83-cent dollar is making Canadian hogs going into the United States a tonne cheaper even with the new COOL requirements.  Ditto for Western Canadian grain yearning for a home in North Dakota and Montana.  However, wait a minute, we’ve still got the Canadian Wheat Board.  You see our new agricultural policy world with financial calamity surrounding us is changing rapidly.  It even resembles a bit of yesteryear.

When Canadian farmers went to the polls last Tuesday they painted farm country Tory Blue and Bloc Quebecois Bleu.  In some ways it’s the great Canadian farm politics dichotomy.  In English Canada farmers are voting Conservative because they feel more comfortable with them for whatever reason.  There is also the hope that they’ll build a strong Canadian agricultural safety net policy.  However, in Quebec farmers reject Canada, want their own country called Quebec, but want the full vestiges of the Canadian supply management system banning foreign imports.   They also enjoy full market access for Quebec hogs to land in Boston.   At the end of the day in Canada, it makes sense.

In my time here at DTN writing this column, I like to think I get it with regard to agricultural economics and our political process.  Clearly from my perspective one affects the other with politics being a vital cog in our agricultural policy process.  We had our turn last week and returned the status quo.  The big play comes November 4th.  Those electoral results will ultimately shake Canadian agricultural policy to its core.  As always, Canadian farmers will watch, react, adjust and move on.  It’s the Canadian way.  Thankfully, our American friends only elect Presidents every four years.  Let’s hope it goes smoothly.