How farmers are supported, or taxed, could make all the difference in providing food security and eliminating hunger and poverty in Nova Scotia and across Canada.
That was the feeling among six of the seven candidates seeking to become the next MP for Cumberland-Colchester during an Eat Think Vote forum in Amherst on Monday.
Former Conservative MP Scott Armstrong and Liberal candidate Lenore Zann provided the biggest disagreement over how farmers are supported, with Armstrong saying changes to tax laws implemented by the Justin Trudeau government have made it more difficult for farmers to survive. Zann said there are programs helping farmers become more sustainable and greener.
“Every farm is a small business. There were tax changes made that were protested against by the Canadian Chambers of Commerce and the Federation of Independent Business, our caucus and our party,” Armstrong said. “Those changes were very damaging to small business operators and they’re the economic drivers of rural Nova Scotia and Canada.”
Armstrong said he’s concerned about the ability of the next generation of families to have those farms handed down to them. He said there are a lot of farmers in the riding who are approaching retirement age, but changes to the capital gains tax requires farmers to pay taxes to transfer their farms to the next generation.
“There are young people who want to be able to purchase their farms from their parents and grandparents,” he said. “The tax changes affect all small businesses, but in particular the family farm. Those have to be reversed if we’re going to support the agriculture producers we have in this area.”
Zann, who is seeking to hold the seat for the Liberals, doesn’t agree with Armstrong’s assessment.
“There’s a number of programs the federal government is introducing to help farmers,” she said. “Having been the agriculture critic for the province these last six years (as an NDP MLA) I can say Nova Scotia is the only province where the number of farms is increasing. There are more farms and more farmers. There is more succession where people are leaving it to the next generation. I don’t know where he’s getting his numbers other than talking points from Ottawa.”
Zann said she has been to all the agriculture federation dinners and has talked to farmers as well as John Bragg at Oxford Frozen Foods. She believes farms are a vital necessity that need to be protected and she will be going anything she can to support them if she’s elected.
“I have close ties to many in the agriculture industry. There is a lot of money going into farms and transitioning them to the green economy,” Zann said, adding changes to the capital gains tax is not affecting farmers the way the Conservative candidate thinks it is.
Armstrong thinks a new federal Liberal government will need to extend the controversial tax to all the provinces.
“When you artificially increase the cost of fuel via taxation in a rural area like this really hurts agricultural producers, the trucking industry, the lumber industry and the fishing industry in this riding,” Armstrong said. “There are other ways to take on global greenhouse gas without the carbon tax. A tax is not going to change people’s ways, it’s just going to punish those living in rural areas in disproportionate ways to those living in urban areas.”
Armstrong said the answer to reducing carbon emissions is through research and development that can be exported to other countries.
“If you’re going to have a taxation or climate change policy make sure it affects everyone equally across the country,” he said.
Zann said there is no carbon tax in this province because it’s already ahead. She said it’s not a tax but a price on carbon, or price on pollution.
“We have already met our targets and part of that is because of what the Dexter government did while I was part of that NDP government. We money into Efficiency Nova Scotia and it’s those efficiencies with tough targets on greenhouse gas emissions that we’ve met,” she said. “All these things got us to the cutting edge of the country so every time Mr. Armstrong brings these issues up it’s like he’s talking to farmers in Calgary because it's not the case here.”
People’s Party of Canada candidate Bill Archer said there’s a lot of land not being farmed across the riding and suggested too much food is being imported. It’s something NDP candidate Larry Duchesne agreed with, adding farmers need to move from fossil fuels to greener energy choices while, as a vegetarian, he’s prefer farmers focus more on grain production and less on meat. He also supports extra food from larger grocers being given to food banks and soup kitchens.
Green candidate Jason Blanch said farmers are drowning in paperwork because of regulations.
On the subject of ending poverty, Duchesne said the NDP is proposing a $15 an hour minimum wage while Blanch said the Green Party supports a living wage and national pharmacare program. Archer said the first $15,000 people make would not be taxed by the federal government and he suggested ending supply management for farmers – something he feels would save families $400 to $600.