“Farmers have been well served by their efforts. There have been many instances where the intervention of the assistant commissioner has resolved disputes fairly.”
– GLENN TAIT
The Canadian Grain Commission (CGC) has been operating fine without the six assistant commissioners historically appointed by the federal government and that will continue, a spokesman says.
Remi Gosselin was reacting to the federal government’s decision not to fill 245 patronage positions on various government agencies.
Treasury Board president Stockwell Day said the move will save the government $1 million. But some observers say the move is largely symbolic because many of those positions were already vacant.
There have been no assistant commissioners on the job at the CGC since June 2008. “So it will be status quo,” Gosselin said. “We feel there will be no measurable impact on the CGC.”
The grain act says the government “may appoint six persons… to be known as assistant commissioners,” but it’s not compelled to do so.
In fact, Ottawa has proposed scrapping the positions. But the Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) is lukewarm to the idea and the National Farmers Union opposes it.
“The assistant commissioners have acted as farm advocates and farmers don’t have many of them,” KAP president Ian Wishart said in an interview.
Assistant commissioners, because of their office, could often poke and prod grain companies to address farmers’ complaints. If the positions are eliminated, then CGC staff or non-political appointees should provide farmers with similar services, he said.
The problem with relying on CGC staff is fewer have agricultural or farming backgrounds compared to the past, making it more difficult for them to understand the complex disputes that sometimes arise between farmers and grain buyers, Wishart said.
The NFU says eliminating the positions is “penny-wise and pound foolish.”
“(Assistant commissioners) have been individuals who have taken their jobs very seriously,” NFU Saskatchewan co-ordinator Glenn Tait said in a news release. “Farmers have been well served by their efforts. There have been many instances where the intervention of the assistant commissioner has resolved disputes fairly.”
The NFU says assistant commissioners were added to the CGC in 1929 to make it more accessible to farmers. Assistant commissioners checked elevator scales, ensured fair weights and measures, educated elevator agents about the legal requirements of grading and weighing grain, and intervened on behalf of farmers.
The NFU says the cuts are just part of the government’s deregulation agenda.
“It’s unfortunate this government appears intent on turning back the clock to the 19th century by deregulating the grain industry and letting grain companies get away with whatever they can,” Tait said
Traditionally there have been five assistant commissioners – one in each of the Prairie provinces, Ontario and Quebec.
And while the governments usually have appointed loyal party members, most have had the practical knowledge to fill the position.
Nowadays the CGC’s three commissioners, who are also political appointees, and staff have direct contact with farmers and farm organizations through attending their annual meetings and setting up information booths at agricultural shows, Gosselin said.
According to Gosselin, the role of assistant commissioners isn’t clear, including to whom they are responsible. Since under the grain act the government can fire them, they are responsible to government through the minister of agriculture.
One former assistant commissioner said being independent from commissioners was an asset because it allowed assistant commissioners to comment on issues they way they saw fit. [email protected]