The government has set a deadline of Nov. 1 to enact its new agriculture policy, which would see some food products and other farm commodities banned from import altogether.
But farmers who oppose the plan have argued it will increase their costs of doing business, hurting their profits.
If the Conservatives win the election, it will be the first time in nearly 40 years that a new Conservative government will be in power with a mandate to impose its agricultural policies on the Canadian agricultural industry.
“I think it’s going to put us in a pretty big hole in terms of the competitiveness of the Canadian economy,” said Dan Laidlaw, president of the Canada Food Inspection Agency, a watchdog for farmers.
“This is going to have a very big impact on the economy.”
A government source says the food package could be announced as early as this week.
The Conservatives say they will not impose tariffs on Canadian beef and pork, but will look to “implement a balanced, reasonable approach that protects consumers and supports Canadian agriculture.”
But critics are not convinced the new policy is enough to curb soaring Canadian meat prices, which are set to rise an estimated 35 per cent next year, and the cost of milk, eggs and vegetables, which have already soared in recent years.
“It’s a big change, but it’s still going to be a big shift in the food system,” said Laidawe.
“What you’re going to see in Canada will be more expensive food.”
The plan would also eliminate the $300-a-year federal subsidy for small farmers, which is one of the reasons the food and agribusiness sector is so vulnerable.
Agriculture Minister Christian Paradis says the move is necessary to help farmers “sustainably compete in a changing world.”
He also says the government will introduce a new agricultural program next year that will help farmers.
Laidwawe says the federal government has “been slow to acknowledge” the impact the food policy will have on Canadian agriculture.
“We are seeing it happening on a weekly basis and not a daily basis, and it’s hard to keep up with it,” he said.
In an email to The Globe and Mail, Paradis said the policy will include a new set of measures to help boost the competitiveness and long-term viability of Canadian agriculture, and “to provide greater stability for our food system.”
Paradis did not say how much money would be spent on the food initiative, which he said would not be affected by the food ban.
However, the policy is expected to have an impact on prices of agricultural products, particularly milk and eggs.
Canadian food prices are expected to rise 15 per cent by 2021, according to a report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, a non-profit advocacy group that focuses on food policy.
Agriculture ministers from provinces such as Ontario and Quebec are scheduled to meet next week in Ottawa to discuss how to address the soaring prices.
The Liberals have said they will introduce measures to address food price rises, including a price freeze and the introduction of a cap on the amount of money farmers can earn from a dairy or meat business.
They have also said they would increase funding for small-scale farmers, including by $10-billion in the next fiscal year.
But some farmers are concerned about the impact on their business.
In a letter to the Prime Minister, the Canadian Dairy Farmers Federation said that “in the event of a food ban, the immediate and long term economic impact on farmers and the Canadian food system will be significant.”
The federation has argued that the ban will be temporary and that the industry will be able to recover quickly.
“If the food price freeze is implemented as it is expected, dairy producers and meat producers will be allowed to resume operations, while other producers will see their revenue and profit margins decrease,” the letter said.
The federation says a freeze would also help the dairy industry.
In the meantime, farmers have been scrambling to find alternative sources of income.
A recent report from Ontario’s Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food says Ontario’s dairy farmers could see their earnings halved and their business could collapse by 2026.
That would mean “farmers would not receive the money they need to pay the rent and other expenses of running their business,” the report said.
“The government should ensure that all farmers are compensated fairly for the costs of this loss of revenue and are able to pay for the cost and benefits of any future changes to the agricultural industry.”
The federal government is also reviewing how to ensure the new food policy doesn’t harm the food sector.
Agriculture Canada spokesperson Mark Pritchard said the agency is aware of concerns expressed by farmers about the impacts of the new policies.
“There is no doubt that the food industry is facing a very challenging environment and that we have to make sure we have a strong and sustainable food system in order to grow the Canadian population,” Pritborough said.
But he said the government believes the policy has the “proper aim of addressing the