Question Period at Resetting the Table

Wednesday, December 5, 2018 - 3:58pm

By Susan Alexander

With the next federal election fast approaching, the three main political parties in Canada sent senior politicians to Food Secure Canada’s very own Question Period to have a dialogue with food movement leaders.  Jean-Claude Poissant MP (La Prairie, Liberal), the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Luc Berthold MP (Meganitique-L’Érable, Conservative) and Alistair MacGregor MP (Cowichan-Malahat-Langford, NDP) all constructively engaged with the audience around food policies.

Dennis Trudeau, former CBC Television host, moderated a great discussion, kick-started by questions from community leaders in the food movement. The politicians found important common ground,  including an on-the-spot commitment to work together to include access to land for racialized communities and migrant workers in a parliamentary committee study. All three MPs are members of the AGRI committee, which is currently conducting research on strengthening support for Indigenous peoples in the agriculture and agri-food industry. 

Leticia Deawuo from Black Creek Community Farm opened with questions about support for agroecology and addressing food security. Poissant recalled the important consultations that have taken place on these and other issues around A Food Policy for Canada, Berthold underlined his sincere appreciation for the work of Black Creek and MacGregor offered whole-hearted support for agroecology while highlighting the Cowichan Tribe’s efforts to restore their traditional salmon stocks.

Anne-Marie Morel from Coalition Poids asked what the views of the MPs were on taxes on sugary drinks. MacGregor was an emphatic yes, Berthold an emphatic no (using the classic can of coke / bottle of orange juice props), with Poissant focusing on his government’s Healthy Eating Strategy and its various measures.

Chris Ramsaroop from Justicia for Migrant Workers raised issues around migrant workers’ rights  including open work permits and permanent residency. While deferring to party spokespeople, Berthold and MacGregor both voiced enthusiastic support for pathways to permanent residency, and better meeting the needs of employers and workers, including through more flexible work permits. It was noted that farm work is not unskilled. Poissant talked about the indispensability of migrant workers to his family farm in Quebec, and referred to an ongoing government study.

Léandre Chagnon from La Ligne Verte asked about the cost and availability of land and capital for new farmers. While noting that access to land falls under provincial jurisdiction, Poissant highlighted the Liberals’ agri-diversity loans program. Berthold and MacGregor talked about how the tax code needs to take better account of the needs of farmers, including regarding succession planning.

Debbie Field from the Coalition for Healthy School Food asked whether the MPs personally supported school food, and would seek to include it in their party platforms. MacGregor certainly agreed that even more effort is needed since too many kids still experience poverty. Berthold expressed his personal support and he and Poissant, both from Quebec, fondly recalled the school milk programme. Poissant also looked forward to A Food Policy for Canada, coming next year. There is increasing momentum for federal funding for school food and cross-partisan support is critical to winning this important program.

As the session concluded, the tables were turned when Tom Rosser, Assistant Deputy Minister for Strategic Policy at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, got the chance to question his political bosses. The civil servant wanted to know what the MPs were all passionate about, and where consensus could be found. Poissant celebrated research and innovation. Berthold emphasised that everyone is in favour of all kids being well fed (vigorous nods from the others) even if policy approaches differ. MacGregor talked about the benefits of committee work, where critical issues like agriculture’s role in combating climate change are tackled.

Question Period has become a popular, recurring feature at Resetting the Table Assemblies. Food Secure Canada thanks Luc Berthold, Alistair MacGregor and Jean-Claude Poissant for their openness to dialogue with the food movement and with each other.  Thanks also to the activists who showed so well how we can ask politicians the questions to which we all want answers. Whatever the outcome of the next federal election (in October 2019), Food Secure Canada will work to ensure that building a healthy, just and sustainable food system is high on the agenda.