When it Comes to Future Fertilizer Reduction Mandates from the Feds – The Best Indicator of Future Behaviour is Past Behaviour


August 26, 2019, only three years ago, Canada’s then Environment Minister, Catherine McKenna, adamantly denied a claim by Conservative MP and now Leader of His Majesty’s Official Opposition, Pierre Poilievre, that the federal Liberals had a theretofore undeclared plan to go beyond their own $50/tonne cap on the carbon tax.

The CTV News webpage headline ex­claimed, “McKenna Denies Claim Carbon Tax May Exceed $50/tonne.”

Just 15 months later the headline, “Feder­al carbon tax to increase to $170 per tonne by 2030 as Liberals unveil new climate plan,” in a National Post article, confirmed Poilievre’s predictions to be prescient.

The broken promise was not a surprise to me. In my former position as Premier of Sas­katchewan, we met as First Ministers in Van­couver not long after Mr. Trudeau had led the Liberals to victory. At that meeting, Trudeau promised he would not impose a federal car­bon price/tax without the input from a subse­quent meeting of Canada’s ministers respon­sible for the environment.

We took him at his word.

While that very meeting of Environment Ministers was taking place in Montreal in Oc­tober of 2016… in Ottawa, Prime Minister Trudeau unilaterally announced the federal carbon tax.

I remember taking a call from Montre­al from our frustrated Environment Minis­ter, now Premier of Saskatchewan, Scott Moe. He asked if I would approve of him walking out of the meeting to protest the cavalierly bro­ken promise. I did. And he did.

How does this relate to the recent discus­sions about the federal target for a 30% reduc­tion in nitrogen fertilizer application by 2030?

It is a cautionary tale to Canada’s agricul­ture sector.

Due to farmer-led protests in the Nether­lands, awareness was heightened in Canada and worldwide regarding the likely impact on producers and agriculture of various proposed and confirmed pesticide and fertilizer man­dates and bans.

Alanna Koch, Chair of the Global Institute for Food Security noted in a Western Producer article that the EU strategy to go to a 50% re­duction in pesticides and 20% decrease in fer­tilizer application by 2030 – was “a disaster.”

“I have to think it’s going to fail because they will go hungry….”

Gunter Jochum, President of the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association, said of Canada’s target to reduce fertilizer application by 30% by 2030, “…looks like they are trying to emulate the European model…”

He continued. “This is really troubling be­cause it is not really science-based. It is interest group based. It is NGO based and leaves the farmers and scientists on the sidelines.”

The Canola Council of Canada and Fertil­izer Canada commissioned and released a re­port on the federal targets as part of this na­tional discourse. They concluded that 30% is not “realistically achievable without imposing significant costs on Canada’s crop producers and potentially damaging the financial health of Canada’s crop production sector.”

The significant social and conventional media coverage stirred by the Dutch farmer protests, the advocacy on the part of Canadian agriculture trade asso­ciations, the interven­tions by Canada’s Of­ficial Opposition and Provincial Premiers, and the extensive com­mentary and advocacy on social media on what is colloquially known as AgTwitter – all had an impact.

The Messenger conversation above was provided by, re-created and published with the express permission of Brad Wall.

The federal government was compelled to publicly reaffirm that a 30% reduction by 2030 was a target, not a mandate, and certain­ly not a ban.

This brings us back to the cautionary tale of the carbon tax.

Regarding climate change-related issues and attendant federal actions, mandates, and taxes, the agriculture sector and western pro­vincial governments must be vigilant as to holding the feds to their commitments. In these matters, they have a track record of arbi­trarily and unilaterally moving off previously stated positions in favor of more aggressive ac­tion, notwithstanding the economic risk and global food security implications.

The Canadian oil and gas sector ending up on the wrong end of federal policy and inter­minable attacks from various NGOs should be a warning for the Canadian agricultural sector.

The agricultural sector needs to remain politically prepared and active on the fertil­izer file.

The government’s assurance that this is all just a target might be made of the same stuff as its various promises about the carbon tax. The fertilizer jokes write themselves.

But given that the best indicator of future behaviour is past behaviours, this mandate is­sue is no laughing matter.

Article Written By Brad Wall

BRAD WALL was the 14th Premier of Saskatchewan. He is the Principal of Flying W Consulting, a partner in the CW Cattle Co. Ltd, and serves on various private, public, and non-profit boards. He is an advisor to the North American Equipment Dealers Association and moderated a panel discussion at the NADC conference in Nashville, TN, November 15-17, 2022.


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