Economic protection and the food crisis: how a domestic election affects global inequality
It’s no surprise that candidates vying for our votes in next month’s federal election are focusing on domestic issues: Canadian voters generally are far more concerned with the carbon tax and Ontario’s manufacturing sector than any vague promises falling under the “global inequality” umbrella. Yet we often fail to recognize that campaign issues have the potential to affect millions of people the world over. As we discuss climate change, gas prices, and the economy in the weeks leading up to October 14, we are actually discussing and determining what role Canada will play in global inequality, and if we will choose to do anything about it.
Headlines concerning the rising price of food have littered newspapers for months now, with people worldwide feeling the effects of more expensive agricultural products. Canadians have not been left out, and many are pinching pennies in response to rising gas and food prices and increased unemployment. People in the developing world, however, have been hit even harder: according to the International Food Policy Research Institute more than 160 million people worldwide survive on less than fifty cents a day, and therefore any increase in food prices – even by a few cents – can literally mean starvation. For developing countries where much of the population spends over 50% of its income on food, the double-whammy of rising food and fuel costs is potentially devastating.
While Canada has expressed concern about the situation, we often don’t acknowledge our role in the spike. Developed countries like Canada, the U.S., and much of Europe use economic policies that help their own agricultural industries boom at the expense of the rest of the world; agricultural subsidies and import restrictions mean that small farmers in Africa, for example, can’t compete on the world market, and leave consumers dependent on foreign imports. These policies have devastated any chance for local agricultural economies to thrive.
This didn’t happen organically: Canada has been an active participant in ensuring that this global economic system exists, and benefits greatly from it. Although individual Canadians often lament the “plight of the poor,” we rely on their dependence to guarantee our own livelihoods and well-being. Our next prime minister will be responsible for deciding how Canada will respond to the food crisis. We need to ask the candidates:
1) How will we address the global food situation in both the long and short term, while also considering the need to address climate change?
2) Will we respond through aid, or through a loosening of economic restrictions?
3) If sectors of Canada’s economy become threatened, will we turn towards protectionist policies to keep our oil cheap and our industries secure? What are the other alternatives?
A more nuanced understanding of how our environmental and economic policies affect the rest of the world is undoubtedly needed for all those going to the polls. What three questions would you ask potential leaders, in order to determine whether or not they have this nuanced understanding?