Completion of the Canada Grain Act review, followed by legislation to amend it, are months away, Canada’s Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau, said in an interview May 27.
Some wonder if the process will have been all for naught, given talk of an election.
While one isn’t scheduled until Oct. 16, 2023, pundits speculate Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s minority Liberal government might force an election before year’s end if it believes it can win a majority.
“I have no idea of the date of the next election, so I’ll just keep working on (the review) and bring it as far as I can,” Bibeau said during an interview, where she extolled proposed cuts to the Canadian Grain Commission’s (CGC) fees.
“We don’t know, we might not go into an election. It could last two more years. But I will work diligently as if I will have the opportunity to table it as soon as possible,” she said.
The Canada Grain Act sets out how the Canadian Grain Commission is to regulate Canada’s grain industry in the interest of farmers, including assuring the quality of Canadian grain.
Why it matters: Changes to the Canada Grain Act and the Canadian Grain Commission, which administers it, have the potential to affect Canadian grain quality, the commission’s role in that process and protections for grain farmers.
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) began preparing to review the act in 2019, but was later sidetracked by COVID-19. However, it began consultations with Canada’s grain industry in January 2021. The deadline for submissions was April 30.
AAFC is assessing submissions now.
“I would expect the ‘What We Heard Report’ by the end of the summer, but at the same time, they (AAFC) have to go through different data gathering analyses,” Bibeau said. “It’s extremely important to hear from everyone — the producers, the grain handlers and the exporters and even our trading partners as well. We will want to consult with them. There’s a lot of data that we want to collect and analyze over and above the consultation as well.”
A common request in submissions is for the federal government to fund CGC work that is considered a public good, including the work of the CGC’s Grain Research Laboratory.
“I’ve heard a lot about it,” Bibeau said. “This is probably the biggest issue.”
That is one reason, she said, that it is, “important to gather data and proceed with different analyses and to evaluate different types of business models.”
She added that she intends to “be open minded and I want to personally understand the issue and proceed with an evidence-based analysis to bring forward the best legislation for everyone.”
While AAFC says the Canada Grain Act hasn’t had major revisions for years, there have been incremental changes. That includes 2012 legislation passed by the Harper Conservative government, ending mandatory CGC inward grain inspection (weighing and grading) at terminal elevators.
The Grain Growers of Canada and Western Grain Elevators Association (WGEA) were disappointed there weren’t more changes at the time.
Two years later, the Conservative government tried again with Bill C-48, the Modernization of Canada’s Grain Industry Act, but it died at the start of the 2015 election.
The proposed legislation would have allowed the CGC to replace its producer payment protection program based on grain buyers posting bonds to cover non-payments to farmers with a compensation fund and extended binding determination of grade and dockage for grain delivered to primary elevators to include process elevators, grain dealers, and container-loading facilities. It would have also created a new class of licence for container-loading facilities, which would have also been brought under the producer payment protection program.
Then agriculture minister Gerry Ritz also wanted to compel commercial feed mills to fall under the CGC’s payment protection.
While Bill C-48 could have changed the CGC’s mandate to work in the interests of Canada, instead of just farmers, its governance structure, based on three commissioners, was to remain.
At the time, Ritz cited a “good working relationship across the spectrum with the three commissioners.”
“Each one brings different expertise to the fore. To limit that to a president and some other people under him doesn’t have the same effect,” he had argued.
The current review has brought up many of the same issues in Bill C-48 with the grain industry, including CGC governance, producer protection, expanding CGC binding arbitration and licensing container loaders.
But one of the most contentious questions is whether to eliminate mandatory CGC outward inspection on Canadian grain exported by ship. A number of farm groups want to maintain the CGC’s role at export, believing it is critical to preserving Canadian grain quality.
But others, including the WGEA, say using private inspectors who already inspect 70 per cent of exported grain at the behest of grain importers would be cheaper. Quality control could be ensured by requiring private inspectors be certified by the CGC, the WGEA says.
However, since most of the CGC’s funding comes from outward inspection, a new funding system would have to be devised.
Meanwhile, the CGC is proposing to cut its fees, something Bibeau supports.
“I think it’s very good news for our producers that we’ll be able to reduce the fees over the coming three years, including this year,” she said.
The CGC and Bibeau announced the proposal May 20.
The CGC wants to cut its $1.48-per-tonne fee for official inspection and weighing services (outward inspection) by 29 per cent, to $1.05 a tonne.
The CGC also wants a cost decrease of $37.88 per official inspection and weighing services for a railway car, truck, or container.
“For fiscal year 2021-22 (April 1, 2021-March 31, 2022), fees paid by grain sector stakeholders would be reduced by approximately $13.79 million, a cost decrease of 19 per cent,” the CGC said in a news release. “Savings for the 2022-23 and 2023-24 fiscal years are expected to be approximately $20.68 million each year, a cost decrease of 29 per cent.”
Current CGC fees, which were already reduced, should be cut further because most are based on grain exports, which have been higher than expected, CGC chief commissioner Doug Chorney said.
Since proposed changes require an amendment to the Canada Grain Regulations, they had to be published in the Canada Gazette, Part I to notify the public. The public has until June 7 to provide feedback.
Bibeau is confident the fees will be reduced.
“I would… be very surprised if there was a position (opposed) to the reduction of the fees,” she said.
Changing CGC fees is currently a slow process, but Bibeau said that ways to streamline it are something to be considered while reviewing the act.