The Canada Grain Act and Canadian Grain Commission (CGC) review being led by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) is in the preliminary stage and the entire grain sector is encouraged to provide input, says Michelle Bielik, AAFC’s director of the Crop and Supply Chain Policy Division in the Strategic Policy Branch.
“We are right now just gathering our thoughts about how we’re going to conduct our analysis,” Bielik told the Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) advisory council meeting here April 2. “That’s why we want to hear from you about the issues you want to focus on. We are nowhere near tabling proposals and when the time comes we hope we are in a position to engage with you further.”
In an interview Bielik said she wasn’t sure if it will result in a discussion paper to facilitate further input.
“First we’re just asking stakeholders to help us identify the areas they are interested in and any questions on their minds,” she said. “That’s going to help us with the further work we’re going to do and how we’re going to structure that work.”
Much of that work will be done during the election period this fall, Bielik said.
“Ultimately our goal is to have a set of legislative proposals to include as part of the minister’s next mandate,” she said.
Bielik told KAP she was happy to provide information given the “confusing state of play” reported by the media about the review.
Last month the Manitoba Co-operator reported that AAFC announced the review at a Grains Roundtable meeting in Montreal, March 8, but had not made a public announcement.
Sources told the Co-operator CGC chief commissioner Patti Miller was pushing an industry-friendly agenda, which she denied in an interview.
Manitoba Canola Growers Association president Chuck Fossay, who was at the roundtable meeting, told Bielik after her presentation “… the way it was presented by some of the people there it was like these are the four or five things that we want to change and basically it seemed like the industry was supportive of it so change has got to go ahead and producers weren’t going to be part of the consultation.”
Fossay added he was “very thankful that we (farmers) will be part of the consultation.”
In an interview Bielik said she was glad to get that feedback.
“We are leading this review and it’s very much about consulting the sector and farmers are going to be critical to that,” she said. “No decisions or recommendations have been made regarding the act and we’re fully committed to working with producers as we work through this review.”
It’s unfortunate some people left the meeting with a mistaken impression, she said.
“It’s just the start of the process and we’ve been very open.”
During her presentation Bielik acknowledged mandatory CGC outward grain inspection is contentious. Grain companies want to use private inspectors, certified and monitored by the CGC, instead of CGC inspectors because that’s what many customers want and it’s cheaper.
Some farmers fear the change could undermine Canada’s grain quality brand.
The review will look at the CGC’s quality assurance program and ways to maintain it, Bielik said.
CGC governance will also be examined — something that has come up in previous reviews. While government experts will be consulted on the best model, farmers and the rest of the sector will have a say too, she said.
The CGC’s producer protection program, designed to compensate farmers who deliver grain and don’t get paid for it, will also be considered. Some stakeholders, including KAP, believe there could be cheaper and more effective options than the current system requiring grain companies to post security to cover farmer liabilities.
“I think we absolutely need to maintain quality assurance for all of our products because let’s face it, if countries like China see a loophole of any kind they will have no problem capitalizing on it to restrict products moving into their country… ” District 8 farmer George Graham told Bielik. “We have to be sure whatever changes are made we can still maintain our quality assurance and be able to defend the products we are exporting.”
KAP, a longtime supporter of the CGC, later passed a resolution to participate in the review and to lobby the federal government “to ensure the Canadian Grain Commission continues to provide the vital roles of adding value and protection to Canadian farmers.”
Canadian farmers export 80 per cent of their production and the CGC is important to that process, KAP president Bill Campbell said in an interview.
“The Canada Grains Act was developed in 1912 for a reason — to protect producers. Do we still need that protection? Maybe we do now more so than then.”