With the upcoming federal election, party leaders have a lot issues on their plates, but food and agriculture may not be one of them.
A recent survey by Angus Reid Global, in partnership with Dalhousie University’s Agri-Food Analytics Lab, found that only 31% of Canadians believe food and agriculture will be a prime electoral issue. Just 25% of respondents in Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario believe food and agriculture will be a key issue, compared to 46% of Quebecers.
“Food and agriculture has never been as hot of an issue as it is now ... but when the elections come, people think about other issues like jobs, healthcare and education,” says Sylvain Charlebois, professor of food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University. “These issues are obviously very important, but food and agriculture represents the largest manufacturing sector in the country. Most Canadians spend well over 10% of their budget on food so I think we should talk about it .”
When asked which agri-food issues deserve more attention during the federal election campaign, food security and affordability ranked number-one, with 60% of Canadians saying it’s an important issue.
Manitoba and the Atlantic region have the most respondents believing food security and affordability is an important election issue in agri-food, both at 68%.
When asked what should be the next government’s priority in agri-food over the next four years, food security and affordability also came out on top, at 55%.
“I think the results point to the fact that people are dealing with stagnant wages and higher consumer debt. People are feeling the pressure,” says Charlebois. “For example, fruit and vegetable prices have gone up 17% this year. If you increase your prices by 3% steadily every year, I don’t think people would mind that much. But when it goes up 17%, people notice.”
The survey also found that the use of plastics in the food industry has clearly caught the attention of voters: 54% of respondents believe the use of plastics in food is an important electoral issue.
Food waste was identified as the third most important agri-food issue for Canadians. A total of 61% of Quebecers believe food waste is an important issue for the upcoming election, compared to 45% in Atlantic Canada.
When it comes to agri-food trade policy, Canada is a “highly divided country,” says Charlebois. The issue of supply management and our quota system ranked the highest in Saskatchewan, with 35% saying it deserves more attention during the election campaign, compared to 32% of Ontarians and 27% of Quebecers.
In Saskatchewan, 51% believe global trades for the agri-food sector is important issue for this campaign, compared to only 19% in Quebec.
“Canada’s breadbasket, which is the Prairies, will see trade very differently than say, Quebec. And that comes out in the survey for sure with supply management,” says Charlebois.
Finally, Canadians were asked which national party is best positioned to support the agri-food sector. The Conservatives are seen as the best national stewards for the agri-food sector, followed by the Liberals and the Green Party. However, the number of respondents who are unsure is very high, at 42% nationwide.
The sample size for the survey was 1,524 from across the country, with a margin of error of less than 3%, 19 times out of 20.