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The key word is security

Jack Middleton: How Canada can play a bigger role in both food and energy security.

Polls are clear: Canadians are concerned about the rising cost of living.

An Ipsos survey released on March 21 showed the top three biggest concerns are the cost of groceries (91 per cent), inflation (88 per cent) and gasoline (85 per cent). How can a nation so abundant in natural resources be facing such strong challenges? More importantly, what can we do to help everyone else?

Canada’s energy and agriculture industries have been facing similar headwinds, including lack of market access and dependence on rail. Furthermore, governments are not taking rising costs seriously. If mishandled a “Just Transition,” will lead to rising costs from farms to grocery stores and will hurt all Canadians.

Farming requires energy use in remote locations; that means fossil fuels for transportation and operating farm machinery. Electric and hydrogen-powered tractors have been shown at car shows but have yet to be scaled and rolled out in the fields. Outside of the Lower Mainland, gasoline taxes are approximately 61 cents per litre. Even with discounted purple fuel for farmers, costs are only going up.

Natural gas is also used in the heating process to dry grain and sometimes hay. This isn’t a nice-to-have, but a fundamental element of getting those products to market, made more difficult by the fact other agricultural sectors receive rebates on their carbon tax, while grain growers do not.

Likewise, heat pumps may offer a solution for heating and cooling homes in the Lower Mainland, but when it’s minus 30°C, heat for livestock simply needs to be reliable. Natural gas and propane offer that reliability and are still the best current solution.

We should keep pushing toward cleaner solutions, but while doing so governments should be looking for ways to lower costs for farmers and consumers. In an industry as difficult as farming, those increased costs could be the difference between making it through the year and selling off the farm.

Canada’s agriculture sector is also a significant player in global economy, in the world’s top five exporters for a variety of grains and agricultural products with potential for more. Canada competes directly with other countries, including Russia. For example, in 2020 Canada was second only to Russia in global wheat exports.

Some of the biggest nations are dependent on shipments of grain from countries like Ukraine and Russia. Together those two countries make up a quarter of global wheat exports. Facing sanctions after invading Ukraine, Russia has responded by banning some exports to the West. This has already created higher commodity prices and fears of lack of access to food and fertilizer around the world.

In Canada that could mean paying a dollar more for bread, but in poorer nations this means famine and death. It’s not hyperbole to suggest the world is headed for severe shortages and increased costs like our generation has never seen.

Canadian energy can also play a role in supplying our allies. Governments around the world are recognizing the role Canadian natural gas and oil can play in helping to meet their critical energy needs for decades to come. Canadian producers are ready to relieve some of the pressure felt by our allies and trading partners grappling with an energy crisis.

To ensure more Canadian resources can make it to international markets next year and beyond, these two crucial industries need strong signals from the federal government. It will support the global movement to replace oil and natural gas supplies produced by hostile dictatorships who don’t share Canada’s high environmental and human rights standards.

We need governments to get serious about the cost of living. Canada may be a middling nation compared to global powers, but we have huge potential to produce resources that can benefit the world. In both farming and energy, Canada can lead the way – but we need to take serious action right now.

Jack Middleton is an Advisor for Citizen Engagement and Outreach in B.C. with CAPP.