Merv Tweed’s recent appointment as chair of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food comes at an opportune time for Manitoba’s agricultural sector — especially the province’s hog industry.
The Brandon-Souris MP, who until now had chaired the transport, infrastructure and communities committee, swapped places with Ontario MP Larry Miller, who now joins the transport committee.
In our opinion, Tweed is a good fit for the agriculture committee, thanks in large part to the fact that his constituency is largely in rural Manitoba’s agricultural belt, and as such he has strong ties to the ag industry in this province.
Though, as he fully admits, that background won’t necessarily give him the “inside track” into the difficulties and challenges faced by producers in this country, his appointment stands to benefit this province.
“It gives me more opportunities to have input from my producers from my farming communities,” Tweed told the Sun. “Hopefully we can influence some policies.”
And while, according to a press release, Tweed’s first order of business as committee chair will be to finalize a report on Growing Forward 2, the federal government’s new ag policy framework, it’s the pork file that he’s got his eye on.
Considering the current financial crisis facing the hog industry in Western Canada, and the dire prediction of a looming worldwide bacon and pork shortage as a result of rising costs and declining hog numbers — both here in Canada and Europe — Manitoba’s hog producers are going to need all the political help they can get to weather the storm.
What form that help takes, however, is still up in the air.
As the Sun reported earlier this month, the Keystone Agricultural Producers called for $130 million in government loan guarantees after Canada’s second- and fourth-largest pig producers filed for creditor protection.
A strong harvest in Western Canada means there is a healthy supply of wheat and barley, which is used to feed the hogs. But the grains also act as a substitute for corn, a crop that was decimated by record-setting high temperatures in the U.S., which will drive food costs up and force producers to make some difficult decisions about their operations. Essentially, how long they can afford to tough out a tough market.
While both KAP president Doug Chorney and Manitoba Pork Council general manager Andrew Dickson agree that government intervention is needed in the short term to ensure the industry’s long-term success, thus far the government has not signalled it’s ready to pony up the cash.
In his statement, Tweed signalled that while the agriculture committee is watching the hog industry crisis, the government intends to be careful how it handles the situation.
“I’ve raised it myself, just coming from a pretty strong hog industry area,” Tweed said. “It’s a challenge because we don’t want to do things with a knee-jerk reaction where solving one problem creates another. I do think we will respond when the time is appropriate.”
As we’ve said before on this page, government can only do so much. And while his new position gives him a unique vantage point, Tweed will need to balance his roles as both local politician, and committee chair.
As the local MP, Mr. Tweed will continue to carry the concerns of his constituents forward to the federal government. And as the ag committee chairman, we expect he’ll push for a measured — and hopefully not a delayed — response.
Nevertheless, having Tweed at the head of the agricultural committee gives Manitoba producers a stronger voice at the federal level.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 27, 2012