The Progressive Conservative opposition is demanding the government activate a dormant legislative committee to map out future directions for farming in Manitoba.
The Tories say they want the standing committee on agriculture and food, which hasn’t met for over a year and a half, to get together and develop plans for the industry.
“We need to have a long-term vision and you need to have input from both sides of the house,” said Cliff Graydon, opposition agriculture critic.
“We need to be able to have a long-term vision of where we want to go and what we want to see in this province in 10 years.”
The agriculture committee is one of the least active among Manitoba’s standing legislative committees. It has met only four times over the past decade: in 2001, 2006, 2008 and 2009.
Graydon said his party is frustrated the NDP government refuses to summon the committee. He called it ironic that the committee has been largely inactive for years when agriculture is Manitoba’s largest single industry.
“Never since 2001 have they actually sat to address the issues of agriculture.”
“We’ve never been able to get the Manitoba government since 2001 to meet on agriculture as a whole in the province. And we have tried.”
The 2001 meeting resulted from an all-party resolution to appeal for more federal support for agriculture. It was the last time the committee met to discuss something other than legislation.
The most recent committee meeting in March 2009 considered amendments to the Animal Care Act. A June 2008 meeting conducted hearings into Bill 17, the so-called hog moratorium bill. Those hearings drew some 250 presenters, the most for a provincial law in recent memory. In June 2006, the committee met to consider several bills.
Graydon said the opposition has asked for a meeting numerous times in question period, estimates and private conversations with the agriculture minister.
He said former agriculture minister Rosann Wowchuk always skated around the request.
“She just said that she would take it under advisement. Never once said yes.”
The opposition wants to query the government on several important issues, many relating to the beef industry, said Graydon, himself a cattle farmer.
He said the Tories want to know why Manitoba has no federally inspected beef slaughter plant, why a proposed plant for Dauphin failed and what the government will do to help rebuild the province’s shrinking beef cow herd.
Mostly, though, the opposition wants to work with government on developing a long-term vision for the industry, Graydon said.
A legislative spokesperson said it isn’t that unusual for standing committees to meet only infrequently, as the agriculture committee does.
For example, the human resources and intergovernmental affairs committees sometimes don’t meet for years on end.
Unlike committees of the whole house (e. g., a committee of supply), most standing committees do not retain permanent memberships. Exceptions are the public accounts and Crown corporations committees, which have functions other than legislation and therefore do have permanent members.
But standing committees meet mainly to consider legislation. For a committee to meet, the government house leader must confer business, usually a specific bill, to it.
Party whips provide names of members serving on the committee for that meeting. Most standing committees currently have 11 members: seven NDP and four PC. The Liberals have seats on two committees.
When a committee finishes meeting, it disbands for all intents and purposes. The next time it meets, whips again provide lists of names which could be completely different.
Graydon said the Tories will continue to demand the agriculture committee meet. He also said he hoped to see agriculture bills during the new legislative session, which began with a throne speech Nov. 16. [email protected]
– CLIFF GRAYDON, PC MLA