Deciding to retire as chief commissioner of the Canadian Grain Commission (CGC) in June wasn’t easy, but Patti Miller says it’s the right one.
“I’ve worked in this industry for 35 years,” Miller said in an interview Feb. 21. “That’s a significant amount of time. I love this organization. The people are amazing. They are so dedicated. I’ve learned so much here, so it was a very difficult decision. It was just time and there wasn’t anything more than that.”
The Canada Grain Act, and the CGC, which administers it, are being reviewed by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC). Miller said it’s a challenge leaving before the review is complete.
“Obviously the legislative renewal is going to happen at some point in the future,” Miller said. “I feel sad in many ways that I am going to miss out on that process.”
But it’s not like the CGC has been standing still, she added.
“We have done a lot of work in the last three years in the organization to get ready and to start modernizing within the regulatory framework that we have,” she said. “That’s an important message that I would like to emphasize — there has been a lot going on here. People talk about the legislative renewal and that’s important, but there are a lot of other important things being done in the organization to continue to support the industry and to support farmers and make sure that we are ready for the future the best we can be.”
Last March AAFC quietly announced it was reviewing the grain act and the CGC’s role. According to reliable sources Miller has a pro-grain company agenda, which, in their view, could hurt farmers.
They also alleged Miller sidelined input from Assistant Chief Commissioner Doug Chorney, who farms at East Selkirk, and Commissioner Lonny McKague, who farms at Omega, Sask.
Miller denied both allegations, saying while views among commissioners vary, all had a say in the review process.
What grain companies want most from the review are recommendations to amend the grain act to end mandatory CGC outward inspection.
Some grain companies say it’s redundant and costly because many of their customers are satisfied using less expensive private inspection services.
But some in the industry say making the CGC’s ‘Certificate Final’ optional will undermine Canada’s grain quality assurance system.
The three Prairie general farm organizations agree the CGC’s oversight is more important than ever because of the rise in non-tariff trade barriers.
Meanwhile, the Alberta Wheat Commission is calling for a review of the CGC’s grading system.
Although Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau confirmed AAFC’s grain act/CGC review continues, there’s no specific reference of it in her mandate letter from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
In a Feb. 20 email, the minister praised Miller for her work at the CGC.
“I would like to thank her for her service to Canada,” Bibeau wrote. “She has been dedicated to the grain sector for over 35 years, and felt it was time for her to retire. During her time at the CGC, she has helped modernize the organization and begin the review of the Canadian Grain Act. In order to ensure an orderly transition, Ms. Miller will be in place (at the CGC) until June 2020.
“We will be launching an open, transparent and merit-based process to find a new commissioner as soon as possible.”
Miller, Chorney and McKague were all appointed to their positions by the federal government in early 2017 after having applied to serve.
Twenty-five of Miller’s 35-year career in agriculture were with the federal government. In addition she worked for Cargill for five years and had served five years as president of the Canola Council of Canada at the time of her CGC appointment.