Agri-Food and Consumer Products
Food & Agriculture
The future of supply management continues to be a major point of debate in this election. The issue has heated up considerably in the push to finalize the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations and will remain hot whether or not the TPP negotiations are finalized. Other TPP countries are pushing for another Ministerial meeting before the end of August and if there is no agreement soon pro-TTP groups will ratchet up their pressure. If there is an agreement that makes adjustments to supply management the farm organizations concerned will likely redouble their pressure.
All political parties have been holding firm with their support for supply management and continued strict limits on dairy, poultry and egg imports. As the TPP negotiations continue however, the Conservatives have signaled that compromise may be necessary to keep Canada in the negotiations. Although few substantive details have been available to date, it is widely expected Canada will be forced to open up some import access to its dairy, eggs and poultry markets. The election question is how that would play out in rural areas, particularly in Quebec and Ontario, where the largest number of supply managed farms are located. Are angry dairy, chicken and egg farmers a force significant enough to influence the election outcome in certain ridings?
Food safety and related public health issues have greatly moved up on parties’ agendas, although the Liberals have yet to outline details beyond their position since the last election. Nutrition and dietary practices for Canadians have become major priorities for the Conservatives and the NDP. Industry should watch for an array of issues and commitments that are likely to be profiled by each political party, ranging from nutrition labelling, “junk food” advertising, and menu labelling. With the recent BSE scare in Alberta, we can also expect opposition parties to profile a consumer focused approach to strengthening Canada’s food safety system and opposition parties may propose new programs and funding commitments.
Sample of Major Profiled Party Polices and Positions
- The Conservatives continue to list “Strengthening Food Safety” as a high priority. In the past, they have profiled hiring inspectors and other staff and funding the Food Safety Information Network. The Public Service Alliance of Canada union that represents meat inspectors has raised alarms over the safety of the system. Nutrition labelling rules for foods and beverages are a major priority, particularly for the Minister of Health. It can be expected that the Conservatives will profile their proposal to reformulate Canada’s food labelling system, which is currently undergoing public consultation.
- In the past, under their Canadian Health Promotion Strategy, the Liberals have profiled commitments to consumers through the development of a National Food Policy designed to support consumers on a variety of fronts, including: improved education programs on health eating; enhanced food safety systems; and, new food labelling regulations. Following the same principles, the Liberals have also called for new regulatory standards for trans-fats and sodium for food products, an initiative which the Conservatives have left to industry to address voluntarily. They have also called for an improved regulatory process for new health claims.
- With the heightened policy debate on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides and the Ontario Liberal’s actions to date, the Federal Liberals may seek to initiate a policy agenda that would challenge their use.
New Democratic Party
- The NDP have called for a comprehensive policy on food security and food sovereignty that profiles access to healthy foods as a fundamental human right. Included is a commitment that would enhance labelling provisions on genetically modified foods and their origins. Their food security agenda has also been match by a call for a moratorium on new genetically modified crops and a comprehensive review and reform of the regulatory system that approves GM crops. The NDP have favoured mandatory labelling of foods containing genetically modified ingredients and questions about whether they maintain that commitment have come up in the campaign.
- Additional social policies targeting the obesity debate in Canada can also be expected. NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair, has publically profiled his desire for a ban on “junk food” advertising to children. It is possible the NDP may seek to replicate its approach off of the Quebec model.
Consumer Goods & Services
An emphasis on consumer-friendly policies is expected to be a part of each party’s platform this Federal election. The Conservatives took a soft approach on this during the last election campaign, but have since launched a number of new initiatives profiled under their “Consumers-First” agenda announced in the October 2013 Speech from the Throne. In response, there has been a heightened level of political discourse, particularly between the Conservatives and NDP. They both continue to try and position themselves as the true broker of consumer issues and protector of Canadian families. In particular, there has been an emphasis on reviewing existing consumer programs, enforcement mechanisms and the development of broad consumer right agendas. Industry will also want to pay particular attention to how the Conservatives profile their proposal to enhance the Competition Bureau’s powers to investigate and sanction companies that unjustifiably price the same goods at higher prices in Canada than in the U.S. To date, the NDP have tried to bolster their leadership on the issue and might adopt a similar approach but with stricter provisions.
Sample of Major Profiled Party Polices and Positions
- The Conservative Party remains very focused on its “Consumers First” agenda. To date they have taken on broad-appeal issues such as Canada-U.S. consumer product price differentials, cable TV package, targeted tax cuts and mobile device fees. They are expected to be profiled during the election. Their commitments have been positioned as ways to increase competition while enhancing choice and lower cost for consumers. Arguably, the Conservatives will take on such social policy positions that are more pro-consumer than pro-big business.
- An example of the Conservative commitment to profile themselves as pro-consumers was profiled in the first week of the campaign, when Prime Minister Harper pledged he would not introduce a “Netflix Tax”. This announcement has been widely considered an attempt to put the other parties on the defensive as neither the Liberals or the NDP have hinted at introducing such a tax.
- In the past the Liberals have signalled some intent to evaluate consumer product labelling provisions, especially as it relates to the use of chemicals. As the Liberals confirm their policy platform, they may try to mirror the Ontario Liberal Government’s pledge to review how information about chemicals linked with cancer in products is communicated to consumers.
New Democratic Party
- In support of their broad consumer policy agenda, the NDP has campaigned on a number of policies and related enforcement mechanisms, such as capping ATM fees; policy for access to a no-frills credit cards; a commitment to crack down on “pay-to-pay” fees; and, a commitment to enhance the Competition Bureau’s mandate through new prosecution powers within the Bureau.