Federal NDP introduces soil health bill

Proposal calls for a National Soil Health Advocate

The federal New Democrats propose to set up a plan they say could help build up Canadian agriculture from the ground down.

The NDP’s agriculture critic, British Columbia MP Alistair MacGregor, on Monday introduced a private member’s bill in the Commons to create a national soil health strategy for Canada.

The strategy as proposed in Bill C-290, which got first reading on Monday, would help maintain, enhance and rebuild the capacity of soils, the NDP said.

“Healthy soils are the foundation of sustainable food production, enhanced biodiversity and cleaner air and water for present and future generations. Canadians from coast-to-coast-to-coast depend on our ability to produce good food to keep themselves, their families and the environment healthy,” MacGregor said in a statement.

The national strategy would also have reporting requirements tied to it, including a requirement that the federal agriculture minister report on its effectiveness — and make recommendations for same — every three years after the strategy is put in place.

Beyond encouraging farmers and other land users to adopt best practices, MacGregor’s bill would create the office of a National Soil Health Advocate and establish National Soil Conservation Week.

That week would be on the third week of April each year. National Soil Conservation Week already takes place, but the strategy would give it federal recognition.

The advocate’s role, meanwhile, would be “to raise public awareness of the critical role soil plays in supporting agricultural productivity, in maintaining healthy ecosystems and in meeting global challenges, including food security and climate change.”

“Farmers are on the front line of the fight against climate change — few feel the impacts of our ever-changing weather systems more than they do,” MacGregor said.

“This bill is about ensuring they have the tools they need to keep doing their jobs to the best of their ability. When we support our farmers and food producers, Canadians see the benefits in healthy food and a safer, greener environment.”

Karen Ross, a director with Farmers for Climate Solutions, said in the NDP’s release that practices to enhance soil health are “fundamental to the future of farming.”

Private members’ bills such as C-290 rarely become law in Canada but are believed to have better chances for passage during periods of minority government such as in the current Liberal-led Commons.

— D.C. Fraser reports for Glacier FarmMedia from Ottawa.

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