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Farmers fare better under right-of-centre governments

Conservative governments talk fiscal restraint but they are pretty liberal when it comes to helping farmers

Anew study shows liberal fiscal policies for agriculture are common under Conservative leadership. Tor Tolhurst and Shuang Li, M.Sc. students, FARE and John Cranfield, professor, FARE examined the seemingly contradictory nature of Conservative fiscal support for farmers.

Known for espousing small government and fiscal conservatism, Conservative governments in Canada have instead shown a consistently “leviathan” approach to agriculture.

The researchers examined data — specifically the number of Conservative-held seats in Parliament relative to direct and indirect federal transfers — over a 25-year period from 1986 to 2010 using figures from the organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

They also included controls for state of the agricultural economy, trade negotiations, importance of agricultural trade and the general state of the Canadian economy. The study demonstrated a statistically significant and positive relationship between transfers to agricultural producers and Conservative Party power.

The researchers then went on to ask the natural followup question, “Why are governments of the right — against party ideology and rhetoric — leviathan for agriculture?”

They outline several theories espoused in research literature, including: successful, well-organized farm group lobbying; vote pandering; and the relationship between the tax burden of farm support relative to national income, among others.

But these theories don’t address the question of “why Conservative parties?” in particular. For this, the researchers found a number of authors who support the notion of a long history of agrarianism that took root over time.

This trend was developing at the same time that Liberal parties were aligning themselves with urban and labour interests.

The researchers concluded that these theories might be overly simplistic due to the complexities of the ever-changing makeup of political parties in Canada. Instead, they pointed to their data that suggests the best use of political resources was to capture social conservative and fiscal liberals among agricultural producers.

More specifically, investment in agriculture equalled votes from individuals in the margins.

It might surprise some Canadians to know how much of their taxes go to support those in the agriculture industry; it might surprise them even more that the data supports the reality that Conservative governments are often the leviathan for the industry.

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