CGC review started quietly amid suspicion in 2019, then sidelined

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) quietly began its review of the Canada Grain Act and the Canadian Grain Commission (CGC) in March 2019.

The kickoff was an AAFC briefing to members of the Grains Roundtable, which represents a cross-section of the grain sector.

There was no ministerial announcement or news release, but shortly after it was mentioned in the budget, stating the review would “address a number of issues raised by the Canadian grain industry, including redundant inspections and issues within the current grain-classification process that unnecessarily restrict Canadian grain exporters.”

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Both issues had been, and continue to be, raised by the WGEA, the Alberta Wheat and Barley Commissions and Cereals Canada.

The budget’s wording prompted some to speculate AAFC started out with a pro-company bias.

Reliable sources at the time said some CGC staff were shocked the government used the word “redundant” with respect to its role in outward inspections, the CGC’s main source of funding.

They also said then assistant CGC chief commissioner Doug Chorney and commissioner Lonny McKague, both farmers, were sidelined from the review, while then chief commissioner Patty Miller pushed the pro-grain company agenda with AAFC.

Miller denied that in a March 18, 2019 interview, but acknowledged she and the other commissioners had a difference of opinion.

However, there were other indications of a pro-grain company agenda. Speaking to a Canadian Federation of Agriculture meeting in Vancouver in September 2018, AGT president and CEO Murad Al-Katib called for changes to the system and said they had support from Miller, who retired in 2020.

The Canada Grain Act is “archaic and left over from a Canadian Wheat Board centralized marketing system,” Al-Katib told the meeting.

“It doesn’t make sense today. Did you know that today I cannot buy durum wheat in my own railway that I own wholly in Saskatchewan, put it in my own rail cars, transport them to a terminal that I own in Thunder Bay and ship it to my own factory in Turkey that I produce pasta in without the Canadian Grain Commission regulating my grain exports… I can’t be part of a global value chain without being regulated by the Canadian government.”

When Saskatchewan farmer Norm Hall told Al-Katib the CGC was created to protect farmers, Al-Katib replied:

“We actually have the chief commissioner (Miller) supportive and requesting us to consider that type of modernization.”

On April 2, 2019 Michelle Bielik, AAFC’s director of the Crop and Supply Chain Policy Division in the Strategic Policy Branch, told a Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) meeting the review was at a preliminary stage.

“We are right now just gathering our thoughts about how we’re going to conduct our analysis,” Bielik told KAP’s advisory council in Portage la Prairie. “That’s why we want to hear from you about the issues you want to focus on.”

The review didn’t have much of a public profile leading up to the federal election Oct. 21, 2019, nor following it. The review was sidelined when COVID-19 hit Canada hard in March 2020.

The consultation discussion paper AAFC released Jan. 12 to help facilitate feedback on changes to the Canada Grain Act and CGC doesn’t refer to outward inspections as “redundant,” but it does ask the following questions: “Are there ways that the official inspection and weighing system, which includes oversight and service delivery of inspection and weighing, should be reformed? If so, how and why? What are the best roles for the CGC and how can the inspection system maintain official Canadian grain-grading standards while addressing the need for a cost-effective and responsive system?”

About the author

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Allan Dawson

Allan Dawson is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator based near Miami, Man. Covering agriculture since 1980, Dawson has spent most of his career with the Co-operator except for several years with Farmers’ Independent Weekly and before that a Morden-Winkler area radio station.

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