Conservative Majority Will Forge Change on Canadian Agriculture

Con Majority What NowLast week I hinted at the gorilla in the room, this week we know what it was.  The big orange wave of NDPer’s swept across Québec farm country.   At the same time in the rest of Canadian farm country it was a big blue wave as the Conservatives swept almost every riding in rural Canada. The Conservative party finally has the majority.  So at least for the next four years its unlikely there will be an election.

After all the speeches had been made and things settle down a few days after the election I saw many commentators musing about what this actually means to Canadian agriculture.  I was somewhat taken aback by that as I thought it was quite clear when the majority Conservative government would do in Canadian farm country.  In short, the gun law will be eliminated, along with the monopoly marketing powers of the Canadian Wheat Board.  You can also say no to federal participation in Ontario’s risk management plan. (RMP)  In Québec, the dairy economy surely will be compromised.

Those are some very major changes and if Prime Minister Harper is smart he will come back with a different agriculture Minister than Gerry Ritz.  My preference is always for a female agriculture minister from Québec.  However, I don’t know if I will live long enough to see that.  This time around, the Conservatives do not have enough representation in Québec to make it happen.

The big change will come in Western Canada where the Canadian Wheat Board will be changed forever and may be eliminated completely.  I know that I am on thin ice when I comment on a strictly Western Canadian issue because I have no vested interest in it.  When I have spoke in Western Canada there are supporters and detractors of the Canadian Wheat Board and not much in the middle.  With the election of Stephen Harper to a majority position, it’s over.  Marketing choice is coming to Western Canada.  I don’t know what marketing model will be used but deep change is coming to the vast expanses of Western Canada.

It may not be so easy in Québec.  If there is one thing I know about Québec farmers is they will take nothing lying down.  They are the most powerful, aggressive and well-connected farmers in Canada and they will not think twice about using it.  Messing with the Québec dairy economy to satisfy world trade organization rules is in the mix. When that happens, the earth will shake under Canadian agriculture.  You might even see me on a hay wagon in front of the Parliament buildings.

Clearly though, I think Canadian farm country is satisfied with having the Conservatives in majority.  When it comes to agriculture and agricultural policy, the reason the Liberal party has been reduced to dust in rural Canada is because of their past record on rural issues and agricultural policy.  Farmers might not like some of the things government might do in the future but they want stability and no elections over the next four or five years.  We have that now.

As we move ahead into 2011 we’ll see what happens.  We have enjoyed higher prices for commodities over the last 18 months.  In fact commodities have been hot as fire until the last few weeks.  For instance today Brent crude fell $12 a barrel and US crude fell $9 a barrel to go below $100.  Natural gas dropped 7% today and silver actually slumped by five dollars its biggest one-day loss since 1980.  Of course I’m wondering if this is the tipping point or did the tipping point for commodities, come three weeks ago?  Jittery markets are jittery markets, but when they go down it’s always not as much fun.

So the gorilla in the room is not longer the specter of the big orange wave or even Chinese demand.  At least for the moment, it’s the delay in spring planting.  In Ontario planting has been at a stand still since about 2000 acres of corn went in the ground in the middle of April.  I know myself I worked over 100 acres on April 12th and rain has kept me out of the field ever since.  There has never even been a chance to put nitrogen on heavy clay wheat fields.  Needless to say, my cup is half full.  I’ll get to the field and maybe by Christmas, we’ll all look back and wonder what all the fuss was about.

Maybe that fuss will be in commodities.  Regardless of planting delays, in some ways over the last couple of weeks, commodities seem so “retro”.  Non-commercials it would seem are getting bored.  We’ll see.  2011 is getting off to a wet, cold slow start.  That should make agricultural commodities hotter.  However, it is what it is.  You never know what you’re going to get.