By Trevor Busch
Plenty of challenges await on the federal front, but Bow River MP Martin Shields is anticipating some hard work on critical trade files early in 2020.
With the trilateral trade pact between the United States, Mexico and Canada — the replacement for the former NAFTA trade agreement — now ratified by the U.S. Senate, Parliament will be examining the USMCA this week as the spring session opens and may look to fast track its own ratification.
“We finally have NAFTA — what I would call NAFTA 0.5, not something we’d call NAFTA 2 — but we are traders, it is a trade agreement, we need to have that trade agreement done,” said Shields. “It’s not as good as the last one, but it’s one of the first things we’ll be dealing with when the government starts. We’ll probably see that legislation very quickly. There are some concerns in it, but again, we are traders, the U.S. market is well over $300 billion — it’s our biggest market that we need to trade with. Mexico is important as well. Getting NAFTA, the second version of it, done is important.”
Chinese retaliation against Canada over a U.S. extradition issue has caused huge problems for Canada’s agriculture and export sectors caught in a spat between two economic giants, and Shields wants to see much more proactive action on this file in 2020.
“We have built up considerable trade with China, but it pales in comparison to the U.S. volume. We’re well over $300 billion with the U.S., but it’s just over $20 billion with China. That’s a great market for pork and canola, and the problem we have now is we need to find different markets, but if you’re out there farming and you’re trying to decide last year what did I plant and this year what do I plant, the lag of finding new places for our products — the Conservative’s position is to be much more active in the trading role, and fix some of the problems we’ve created, for example, India. We’re hearing the Indians aren’t interested until we have a different prime minister. We need to work on building trade relationships, we need to find alternate markets for some great products.”
With 2019 quickly receding in the rear-view mirror, Shields outlined some of the highlights including a landslide election win in Bow River in October.
“The election was one of the biggest events of 2019. The results were humbling, gratifying,” said Shields, who took in 84.1 per cent of the vote. “The election, to me personally, was a positive winning in the Bow River riding as well as the Liberals being unable to gain a seat in Saskatchewan, Alberta, and rural Manitoba and B.C. I think that was significant.”
With tens of millions in unpaid oil and gas taxes plaguing municipal bottom lines throughout Alberta, there appears to be little light ahead for the province in 2020.
“In the M.D. of Taber, the issue with abandoned wells — the lost revenue — and now municipalities are suffering because of the downturn in the oil and gas sector, and that’s huge for municipalities, and has been a challenge. Issues, in the sense of the oil and resource sector, there’s been challenges. Taber is very similar to many other ridings in the sense of lack of work in the resource sector, businesses that have closed down, and the secondary industry services have gone because of it. That’s been a huge challenge. TMX — it looks like it may be closer and closer to being built — and that’s a huge part of moving resources. But it’s only one of three. Keystone XL is another one that may be getting closer and closer.”
Many crops in the region in 2019 were obliterated in a series of blows that ranged from hail to drought, and producers are looking to the new season.
“Locally, in the sense of weather, the M.D. of Taber — corn first was hailed out, grasslands were dry and burned in part of the riding to begin with,” said Shields. “Then we got into the fall, winter showed up unexpectedly. What happened with the sugar beets and potatoes, for example, and onions, in the Taber area not only was there snow, but then it melted and got very cold, which really destroyed. The canola and pork, those kinds of things involved with trade, we had huge challenges with China. With the agriculture sector, it made it very difficult.”