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CGC Bill Back From Political Graveyard

Acontroversial government bill to overhaul the Canadian Grain Commission has returned to the Commons agenda after a near-political-death experience.

Last April, NDP Agriculture Critic Alex Atamanenko proposed a six-month delay in any further debate on the CGC legislation that would end inspection of grain delivered to terminals. Known as the six-month hoist, the move usually spells the end to a bill. The government stopped further debate on it rather than risking a vote on second reading, approval in principle, that it would surely lose and it appeared dead in its tracks.

It may still be, but on Oct. 9, Conservative MP Randy Hoback got debate on the bill rolling again. Some parliamentary experts thought the government might ask the Commons to agree to send the bill to the agriculture committee for further study.

Hoback, the MP for Prince Albert, Sask., accused the opposition of “hijacking this bill, which is essential to the grain farmers in Western Canada” and “would contribute to building a lower-cost, more effective and innovative grain sector… eliminating costly regulations and unnecessary mandatory programming.”

The matter didn’t come to a final vote and the ensuing two hours of debate touched on hogs, the gun registry, the government’s agriculture track record and, occasionally, changes to the CGC.

Winnipeg NDP MP Jim Maloway said the bill might destabilize the quality of Canadian grain exports and “damage the very strong reputation we have in the world market for producing top quality grain. That is one advantage we have over the Americans and I would think we would want to keep it that way.”

Newfoundland Liberal MP Scott Simms said the government should take the time to consult farm groups about the bill before it proceeds any further.

“PERCEIVED RELIABILITY”

The opposition parties were equally critical of the earlier version, which proposed ending inward inspections of grain and weakened provisions where producers would be paid in case of a grain company default, he said. The government has promised an alternative to the existing system but there’s been no sign of it.

The government has also failed to come up with details on a private system of conducting inward inspections when required, Simms said. “Replacing public sector inspectors with private contractors… many of whom would be reliant upon private grain companies for business, would undermine the perceived reliability of the information derived from inward inspection.”

Selkirk-Interlake Conservative MP James Bezan, who chaired the Commons agriculture committee when the CGC reforms were first studied, said producers across the country “spoke out loud and clear that the system was not working as well as it could. We have to be more productive. We have to be more competitive. We have to make sure that farmers are more profitable. This is essentially what this bill would accomplish.”

The CGC “has not been able to keep up with the rapidly evolving changes in the industry,” he said. “In Manitoba, a major grain buyer just went bankrupt and left a number of producers out in the cold without proper compensation. The ones who did get compensation only got pennies on the dollar. The bonding process in place today cannot move fast enough when grain buyers are getting bigger and bigger all the time.

“We have to move to a new producer security system, whether it is through an insurance fund or other forms of security such as a checkoff or clearing house to be able to address the needs of the grain farmers across the country more effectively,” he said.

“We want to make sure that producers receive money for the goods that they deliver to grain buyers, especially those grain buyers which unfortunately get into difficulty from time to time.”

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