By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Chatham-Kent-Leamington MP Dave Epp’s new post is right in his wheelhouse.
Epp, long involved in farming and agri-business, has been appointed as Deputy Minister of Agriculture in Erin O’Toole’s shadow cabinet.
Epp, who formerly held a position in Foreign Affairs, which saw little action because of COVID-19, is pleased with the move.
“I’m happy with the appointment and the fact leader O’Toole has confidence in me,” Epp said in a recent interview.
Epp is one of two deputy shadow ministers in government. The other is MP Richard Hehoux from the Quebec riding of Beauce with MP John Barlow from the Alberta riding of Macleod serving as shadow Minister of Agriculture.
Epp will cover off agriculture, agri-food and food security.
The veteran farmer, who also worked at Agricorp for 20 years, said agriculture is facing some very pressing issues.
A critical labour shortage is one of the biggest problems, Epp said. In 2020, there were between 16,000 and 20,000 jobs that went unfilled in the agriculture sector.
“We have a problem with access to labour at all skill levels,” Epp said, “as well as a shortage of people willing to do the work.
“Finding staff to work in food processing, especially meat processing, is tough,” Epp noted.
The concentration of the food chain supply is another major issue. Epp said 80 per cent of Canadian food is controlled by only five large grocery retailers.
“There’s a power imbalance,” he said, adding a new national framework needs to be developed.
Epp said the government also needs to upgrade its suite of safety programs – including insurance and income supports – under the federal business risk management program.
Bringing agricultural issues to the fore will be good for residents of Chatham-Kent-Leamington, said Epp, as well as the rest of the country.
“These are important issues to local constituents,” he noted, adding that while he will push the interests of agriculture on the national stage, “Chatham-Kent-Leamington always comes first.”
Lambton-Kent-Middlesex MP Lianne Rood also has a prominent position in relation to rural affairs. O’Toole has appointed her as the shadow Minister for Rural Economic Development and Rural Broadband Strategy.