Ensuring market access, including getting Canadian canola into China, and promoting trade, are top priorities for Canada’s new agriculture minister, Marie-Claude Bibeau.
“I already understand we have ongoing market access issues that I have to get into really quickly… ” Bibeau, sworn in March 1, told reporters after her first public address as agriculture minister at the inaugural Canada Crops Convention (CCC) here March 7. “And following up on all the free trade agreements that we have signed in the recent months. We also have the food policy that is progressing.
“Working with the CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) and all the scientific innovation files are also of interest to me.”
Bibeau, who served as minister of international development since being elected MP for Compton-Stanstead in Quebec’s Eastern Townships in 2015, was part of the cabinet shuffle triggered after Jody Wilson-Raybould resigned as veterans affairs minister.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau filled that position with former agriculture minister Lawrence MacAulay.
Restoring Richardson International’s canola exports to China is a pressing issue, Bibeau told the conference — a joint meeting of the Canola Council of Canada and Canada Grains Council.
“I want to assure you that this is a top priority for our government,” she told the 350 or so people attending the CCC. “I am taking this issue very seriously and I have already spoken to my counterparts in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta and with affected stakeholders. With my department and with the CFIA we are working hard to resolve this issue based on science. We will always stand up for hard-working farmers and ranchers.”
Bibeau told the CCC she’s aware of the issues facing farmers and the importance of agriculture to the economy.
“But I know I have a lot to learn,” she added.
To that end the next day Bibeau announced a tour starting March 11 to meet with farmers, processors and industry leaders.
The tour begins in Vernon, B.C. and ends March 13 in Winnipeg, with stops in Kelowna, B.C. and Calgary, Alta.
“This is very important for me to understand your priorities and challenges,” she told the CCC. “As minister of agriculture my focus will be supporting a competitive agriculture industry in Canada that helps grow the economy, supports our rural communities and creates good middle-class jobs. I am here to listen and I intend to deliver. I’m a big believer in working together. Let’s make today the beginning of a strong working relationship.”
Bibeau later told reporters she learned in her previous ministry policy needs to come from the bottom up and to stay close to the “real people” doing the work.
Bibeau said she will work hard to remove barriers for Canadian durum wheat and pulses entering Italy and India, respectively.
“My message to you today is that our government is dedicated to supporting a strong and competitive grain and oilseeds industry in Canada,” Bibeau said.
Canada’s goal for exporting $75 billion of agricultural products by 2025 depends on trade, she said. The Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement signed with the European Union and Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) will open up $3.5 billion in exports, including $780 million in canola alone, she added.
“The bottom line is our government knows that investments in Canada’s grain industry drive prosperity throughout our rural communities and throughout our economy. There’s a world of opportunity ahead for Canada’s grain industry. The world wants more grain and that’s good news. We will continue to work hard to help you capture those opportunities. Thanks for your great work.”
As minister of international development, Bibeau worked with the Canada Foodgrains Bank, an institution many Canadian farmers support.
“It is doing an amazing job engaging Canadian farmers to contribute in different ways to support the poorest countries in the world,” she said. “It is advocating a lot on food security. We have a new feminist international policy that means we have to find ways to empower women within all the sectors. It was also very into projects to empower women economically in the developing countries as well. It is a really great partner.”
Bibeau, who was born and raised in Sherbrooke, Que., and has a degree in economics and a graduate diploma in environmental management, started her career with the Canadian International Development Agency.
Later she returned home to run a tourism business.
While in her previous portfolio Bibeau launched Canada’s new Feminist International Assistance Policy aimed at making Canada a leader in the fight against poverty by prioritizing gender equality in the country’s international assistance programming.
Coincidently, Bibeau is Canada’s first female agriculture minister, which she told reporters was surprising given the role women play in family farms.
“I’m proud of course (to be first) and I really look forward to hear from you if you see a difference in dealing with a female minister than a male minister,” she said. “But I don’t think it really changes something except the fact, yes, it is breaking a ceiling. I realize in the recent years that it’s important for young adults and girls and young women to have models and they can believe in their dream… and it can happen when we work hard.”