Twisting and Grunting: Canadian Agriculture In Front of the US “Fiscal Cliff”

     There is only one story this week. Four years ago, it was “yes we can!”   Four years later, it’s well, maybe not so much.  However, when the dust cleared last Tuesday Barack Obama was once again elected President of United States.  For many in American farm country, it was a disappointment.  I don’t know why, I just know that the vast majority of American farmers are Republican.

As a Canadian, I like to think that I have objective view of American politics.  However, that is pretty hard because the right-wing tea party movement would really not have any home in Canada.  In my opinion the rise of the far right tea party movement in the United States was one of the chief reasons for the re-election of Barack Obama.  It is so extreme and its influence on the Republican Party so great that most Americans cannot identify with them anymore.  I certainly don’t have a franchise on understanding American politics but I know that the Republicans got it wrong this time.  Mitt Romney ran a good campaign but he was narrowcasting.  America is changing, it is a bigger tent and Barack Obama was able to capture that nuance last Tuesday.

Is difficult to know how this will impact American farm policy.  As all of you know our American friends are headed toward their own man-made “fiscal cliff” coming up in January of 2013.  It is pretty complicated but let’s just say current legislation calls for a $7 trillion increase in taxes or spending cuts over a decade.  American politicians have been kicking the can down the road for several years now.  The Republican speaker of the house, John Boehner has called for a coming together and maybe something will be done.  President Obama surely knows that, and with a fresh mandate in his back pocket he wields quite a bit of power.  The question is will American farm spending face the chopping block?

It is hard to see any scenario where the status quo stays for American farm policy.  In Canada, we’ve always looked at American foreign policy as extremely aggressive and tough on Canadian farmers.  The Cool legislation and past grain subsidies have been good examples of that.  It just so happens that in 2012, despite the drought the American farm economy is quite healthy and may be right for some budget trimming.  Canadian farmers will just have to adjust and adapt to any new American agricultural political environment.

It is so interesting to listen to the American political discourse.  For instance, on many conservative American media outlets Barack Obama is described as a left-leaning liberal.  However, if you plunked him down into Canadian political space, he would be a conservative.  Simply put the United States is a much more conservative country than Canada and its politicians reflect that.  Lost on Canadians sometimes is the sheer size of the United States.  Multiplying our economy times 12 would give you an approximation of the size of the US economy.  Ditto for the US agricultural economy.  So that size alone often gives rise to a wider political debate of the issues, which you would never hear in Canada.

Case in point was a commentator I heard last week the morning after the election on a Detroit radio station.  This conservative commentator who was being interviewed by one of Detroit’s most popular morning radio hosts asked why the Republicans had lost the election.   This commentator said it had everything to do with the 1965 immigration act.  He went on to say that many of these new people do not share the Anglo-Saxon Christian values so traditional in American society.  When I heard him say those words, I almost drove off the road.  In Canada, that would be close to hate speech.  In the United States, it was on a major Detroit radio station without a second thought.  It is what it is, and in a huge country like the United States there are many opinions.

The United States remains the most powerful country on earth with an agriculture, which is second to none.  As Canadians, we need live beside this nation, which is our greatest trading partner as we are to them.

However, as former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau once said, “Living next to the US is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, one is affected by every twitch and grunt”.
So that is where we find ourselves now.  Our American friends have just gone through political convulsions to get where they are now.  The fiscal cliff is coming and decisions are coming with that.  US agricultural policy will surely be affected.  The twitching and grunting may be on our side of the line.  Canadian agriculture will need to adjust.  It seems like we’ve done that a million times.