Cockrill speaks on value-added agriculture

John Cairns’ Leg Watch

Battlefords MLA Jeremy Cockrill rose to speak in the legislature again last Friday, this time entering the debate on value-added agriculture.

His remarks, recorded in Hansard, are reprinted here. At the conclusion of his speech Cockrill made the following motion which reads as follows:

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“That this Assembly supports the government’s agriculture value-added strategies as highlighted in our provincial growth plan, recognizing that it will support Saskatchewan in both our short-term economic recovery as well as its role in ensuring the long-term prosperity of the province.”

Mr. Cockrill — Mr. Speaker, thank you for recognizing me and I appreciate the opportunity to rise in this House today to bring forward a motion which I will be formally moving at the conclusion of my remarks here today.

Mr. Speaker, before moving to Saskatchewan I had the opportunity to work for a number of years in the agriculture sector in British Columbia. Working in both the greenhouse and the field vegetable sectors gave me the opportunity to see a number of different operations. At both of the operations where I worked, we worked relentlessly to capture more and more of the value chain to make our operations more profitable.

Mr. Speaker, I had the opportunity to travel around the world, and I quickly learned that the most successful operations and the jurisdictions that had the most vibrant agriculture sectors were areas where producers had opportunities to process their crops in the jurisdiction where the primary production occurred. I remember visiting numerous potato processing operations in both Belgium and Germany, and I was impressed at the variety of options available to producers and processors to fit their crops into multiple market categories.

So when I stand here today and I talk about value-added agriculture in this House, I understand the urgency with which we must create the conditions and pursue the opportunities that are available to us here in Saskatchewan. As land prices increase and the cost of labour increases and our producers face increasing global competition, it is even more essential to have value-added options for producers to ensure that they can be successful at the primary level.

And I’d like to just quickly deviate from my written comments here and, Madam Deputy Speaker, I’d like to bring attention to a facility that is in northwest Saskatchewan, not necessarily in my home constituency of The Battlefords, but a facility that serves our entire region. That facility is North West Terminal located in the town of Unity. In addition to being one of the largest independent terminals in Western Canada, it is producer-owned. It has a storage capacity of 2.3 million bushels and can receive 30,000 bushels per hour.

A number of years ago, Madam Deputy Speaker, they added an ethanol facility, which has positioned them to be a significant player in the neutral grain spirits industry. And even during the COVID-19 pandemic, the company was able to shift more of their production to provide the key ingredients for products such as hand sanitizer. This facility and organization is a great example of how value-added agriculture presents immense opportunity for us here in Saskatchewan. And as these investments continue to be made in this province, we move closer to achieving the goals that our growth plan sets out.

Now the Government of Saskatchewan, Mr. Speaker, has a specific value-added strategy that is the basis of my motion here today. The value-added strategy is intended to build on the existing strength of our primary agriculture sector, and to attract investment and develop infrastructure that will create new opportunities here at home in Saskatchewan.

There are four key parts to the value-added strategy: competitiveness, research and development, international market development, and investment attraction. Now, Mr. Speaker, when we speak about competitiveness in the agricultural sector, there is no doubt that Saskatchewan is a leader. We grow the crops that the world needs, and our increasing export numbers show that our producers are up to the task.

And, Madam Deputy Speaker, when it comes to research and development, it should be noted for the record that the Ministry of Agriculture has invested nearly $33 million into research in this year’s budget, which is an all-time record in this province. These are key funds that will support important research initiatives that will help support our producers.

And, Madam Deputy Speaker, I’d like to just draw some attention to the Crop Development Centre at the University of Saskatchewan. You know, it’s known worldwide as a leader in the development of new varieties that will increase yields, be more resistant to disease and drought, and require fewer chemical inputs.

Now, Madam Deputy Speaker, our government knows that our primary agriculture and value-added agriculture sectors cannot be truly strong without having market access, and that’s both domestically and internationally. Our government has international trade offices opening in China, Japan, India, and Singapore this year, and we look forward to expanding into further markets in coming years.

… Now, Madam Deputy Speaker, everybody in this House and really around our province knows that canola is obviously one of our province’s major success stories. I did some research, Madam Deputy Speaker, and according to the Canola Council of Canada, the average seeded canola acres over the last decade is nearly eleven and a half million acres per year. And that compares with six and a half million acres in the preceding decade.

Now they have been spoken about in the House already so I won’t belabour the points, but the three recent announcements by the private sector of large canola processing investments into Saskatchewan are all significant positives for this province. With Richardson’s expansion of their existing Yorkton crush plant and then the new investments announced by Viterra and Cargill for crush plants right here in Regina, we will have achieved our growth plan’s goal of crushing at least 75 per cent of Saskatchewan’s canola crop here in province.

But beyond the crops that we produce in this province and the processing opportunities that tie in with those, are the various other sectors that support our agriculture industry. And frankly these sectors are really what excite me about how focusing on value-added industries is going to build and grow Saskatchewan’s economy.

Perhaps most directly related, Madam Deputy Speaker, is the agricultural equipment manufacturing sector. Now I know my colleague from Melfort talks often about Bourgault Industries and the success that that company has had in becoming a world leader in air seeder manufacturing and a significant employer here in Saskatchewan. There’s also many other successful companies like Rite Way and Schulte that all makeSaskatchewan a world leader in ag equipment manufacturing.

Now, Madam Deputy Speaker, I’d like to just speak for a few moments on the recent announcement from Clean Seed group to base their prairie hub in Saskatoon.

… This is an exciting investment because it is directly related to an incentive that our government put in place. This is because Clean Seed is the first company to take advantage of the patent box initiative. And for the benefit of all members in the House today, I’ll just remind members of that initiative. The patent box initiative is an incentive that cuts corporate income tax in half on income earned on the commercialization of patents and other IP [intellectual property] into new products by Saskatchewan companies.

… Now last week a former premier of this province made the assertion that there has been no significant or innovative new economic activity in Saskatchewan since the early 2000s. That quote might be familiar to the members of Regina University and Saskatoon Meewasin, as I believe they were also part of that meeting. And, Madam Deputy Speaker, I don’t know that former premier personally and I’m not going to question his love of or service to Saskatchewan, but I do seriously question how prevalent that line of thinking is present among the members opposite in this House today.

Madam Deputy Speaker, the members opposite stomp their feet and shake their heads when we talk about this province’s past, and frankly I can understand why. It’s a rather inconvenient truth for those members that their party saw significant economic decline and atrophy while they were in government. But, Madam Deputy Speaker, if we ignore our history, we are bound to return to being a have-not province in the federation that is Canada. The NDP have long doubted this province’s ability to grow, but last decade and a half have proven those ideas wrong.

And so would the members opposite want to talk about 2021? And that’s exactly what I’m talking about here today. And I’m proud to do so because 2021 in Saskatchewan is a much different reality than what those in our province had to endure in the 1990s and early 2000s.

But, Madam Deputy Speaker, I’m happy to try and work with my neighbours on the other side of this House, but that’s going to be difficult when we continue to hear regressive economic policy ideas coming from them. Whether it be cheering the federal government’s increasingly punitive carbon tax or whether it be seeking to violate our inter-provincial trade agreements by pursuing protectionist procurement strategies or whether it be shutting down small businesses with circuit-breaker lockdowns, Madam Deputy Speaker, these are the ideas that would send our province back decades.

Now, Madam Deputy Speaker, I’ll remind this House and the people of Saskatchewan that the NDP governments of years past neglected to make critical capital investments in health care, education, long-term care. And then they’ve turned around and called it fiscal prudence.

And it seems, Madam Deputy Speaker, that every day one of the members opposite rises to talk about a jobs plan. And I have to shake my head because all government members in this House, Madam Deputy Speaker, often talk about the growth plan. And that is the plan, Madam Deputy Speaker. That’s our plan to build and grow the province of Saskatchewan, both in the short term as we recover from the effects of COVID-19, but also well into the long term to provide opportunities for future generations in this province.

Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to come back and re-emphasize what we believe on this side of the House and in this government. We believe that economic growth and job creation in this province is fuelled by the private sector, not government. It is government’s role to create favourable conditions for private sector investment, offer incentives where needed, and ensure a reliable regulatory framework.

After Cockrill made his motion in the Assembly, Opposition member for Regina Rosemont, Trent Wotherspoon, delivered his response. In doing so, he gave low grades to Cockrill’s speech.

Mr. Wotherspoon: — …I thought the member’s remarks were at first reasonably earnest. A bit back-patting, as we know is the tradition of late with this big majority Sask Party, fluffing their own feathers, Mr. Speaker. But I thought the last part of that member’s remarks were ridiculous and out of line and inconsistent with the history of the province, but very in line with what sort of is rewarded on that side of the Assembly.

And I guess I’m not here to give that new member advice. I like him. I think he’s a real nice guy and I appreciated his earnest remarks. But if he has to shill like that for the House Leader over there, Mr. Speaker, with that kind of behaviour to try to get new opportunities to get to the floor more in here or maybe take on a new responsibility, that’s a shame. And I’d say, don’t lower himself to that kind of partisan nonsense and revisionist history, Mr. Speaker.

During the 75-minute debate that followed, Wotherspoon and Cockrill had this exchange:

Mr. Wotherspoon: — Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. The member for The Battlefords went to great lengths to provide a revisionist history and do some real partisan backslapping and partisan focus in his remarks. What he didn’t answer for is why he and the Sask Party government are blocking needed fixes to AgriStability. Of course producers and Saskatchewan farm groups are united on this front, and it’s this government that’s blocking this very important fix for producers in Saskatchewan. To the member from The Battlefords: how does he explain that to his constituents?

The Deputy Speaker: — I recognize the member from The Battlefords.

Mr. Cockrill: — Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and thank you to the member for Regina Rosemont for the question. I know that’s an issue that he is very interested in. It’s disappointing that it took Wab Kinew and Rachel Notley to get interested in that issue for the opposition to also get interested in these programs. Madam Deputy Speaker, I will just remind the member opposite that our government has fully funded all these programs up front and we will continue to do so. Thank you.

Later, the two exchanged words again.

Mr. Wotherspoon: — Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Of course the member from The Battlefords finally had an opportunity to speak in the Assembly here today and it was good to hear him speak, at least the first six minutes of his remarks. But what the member didn’t do when asked the question was that he had no ability or no interest in answering the question as to why he and his government is blocking the improvements, the needed fix to AgriStability. So I’ll bring that question back to the member. Maybe this time he can answer the question. How does he justify to his constituents that he and his government are blocking these needed fixes to AgriStability?

The Deputy Speaker: — I recognize the member from The Battlefords.

Mr. Cockrill: — Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and thank you once again to the member from Regina Rosemont for the question. You know, I’ll just remind the members opposite, you know, we supported removal of the reference margin limit to provide additional support for our producers. We fully funded these business risk management programs upfront, unlike the NDP governments of years past.

You know, Madam Deputy Speaker, the member from Regina Rosemont talks often about consulting with stakeholders. You know, I’ve spoken with many ag stakeholder groups over the last number of months. They’re interested in research, Madam Deputy Speaker, something our government has invested in even more in this budget this year. Thank you.

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