The future of the Canadian Grain Commission (CGC) and farm-saved seed topped the list of issues the National Farmers Union (NFU) took to MPs in Ottawa June 5 and 6.
“We’re trying to figure out what the situation is (with the CGC),” NFU 2nd vice-president Stewart Wells said in an interview June 6 from Ottawa.
“Is there an actual review going on or is it just AAFC (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada) and Patti Miller (chief commissioner minister of agriculture) who are going to present something to the Minister (of Agriculture) eventually? Who is involved? We don’t have any answers to those questions.”
Wells suspects Miller and AAFC are driving the CGC review and the NFU worries the outcome will will favour the grain industry over farmers. Farmers need a say, and long before proposed legislation is tabled or regulatory changes published in the Canada Gazette, said Wells who farms near Swift Current, Sask.
The review was announced in the federal budget March 19. And it specifically says it will 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.”
The CGC review being is led by AAFC, with support from the CGC, Miller said in an email June 9.
“All commissioners will be involved in these discussions,” she wrote.
The review is at a preliminary stage Michelle Bielik, AAFC’s director of the Crop and Supply Chain Policy Division in the Strategic Policy Branch, told the Keystone Agricultural Producer’s advisory council meeting in Portage la Prairie April 2.
“We are right now just gathering our thoughts about how we’re going to conduct our analysis,” she told the meeting. “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.
“First we’re just asking stakeholders to help us identify the areas they are interested in and any questions on their minds. 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.
The lack of formality around the review has left the NFU uneasy and suspicious about the process, especially knowing the Western Grain Elevator Association wants private companies, overseen and certified by the CGC, to do outward grain inspection instead of the CGC.
News of the review was first delivered to the Grains Roundtable, which represents much of the grain sector, March 6 in Montreal ahead of the budget.
In March the Manitoba Co-operator reported that according to reliable sources, Miller and AAFC were driving the review and had excluded the CGC’s assistant commissioner Doug Chorney and commissioner Lonny McKague, both of whom are farmers.
Miller denied the allegations and said while the commissioners had varying views, all were part of the process.
Wells said when he and two other NFU executives met with MPs last week they weren’t familiar with the CGC review.
“We haven’t found an elected MP who is driving this process,” he said, reinforcing his suspicions.
“One of the goals of this trip was to get this out there and raise this with MPs so we can ask eventually is it appropriate for a government agency to be writing its own legislation,” Wells said.
“We don’t think it’s appropriate for the chief commissioner of the Canadian Grain Commission to be writing new rules on how the grain commission should operate.”
She’s not, Miller said in an email.
“As chief commissioner, I am not leading the process nor writing legislation,” she wrote. “AAFC has policy responsibility for the Canada Grain Act and is leading the review. The CGC will be providing support to AAFC as needed, particularly as it pertains to analyzing the operational implications of any policy options that may be considered.”
The CGC was created in 1912 to operate “in the interest of producers,” Wells said. CGC inspection and grading of grain is essential in protecting farmers and Canada’s grain quality brand, he said. Over time private inspection companies will favour the grain companies who pay them and that’s why the CGC must continue to provide outward inspection and Certificate Finals guaranteeing the grade of Canadian grain exports, he added.
“Those are the core services provided and they are needed now the same as they were 100 years ago,” Wells said.
“In this possible future where Mr. Trump blows up all the trade rules and agreements, and might makes right, the branding and regulatory service provided by the Canadian Grain Commission are going to be more important than ever. (I)f somebody allows the grain commission to be completely captured by the grain trade and elevator companies farmers are going to be really hurt. We just have to make sure nothing happens in secret behind closed doors that would result in changes that are foisted on the grain commission that are intended to return the trade back to this era back to complete self-regulation they had a hundred years ago when the grain commission had to be invented.”