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Want to be a Canadian Grain Commission commissioner?

There isn’t much time left to apply and you’ll face some stiff competition

If you always wanted to be a Canadian Grain Com­mission (CGC) commissioner, now’s your chance.

Same for assistant chief commissioner and chief commissioner.

The Canadian government is advertising the three positions, which are cabinet appointments, on the CGC’s website.

Applicants must apply online. The deadline is Aug. 17.

The jobs involve lots of travel in and outside of Canada and good salaries. Commissioner and assistant chief commissioner pay ranges from $142,800 to $168,000 a year. The chief commissioner earns a lot more — $230,800 to $271,500.

Appointees have to live in Winnipeg — the CGC’s headquarters — or within commuting distance.

There’s stiff competition though. Incumbent commissioner Murdoch MacKay and assistant chief commissioner Jim Smolik, are also applying. They have almost eight years of on-the-job experience, in addition to what they brought when appointed by the former Conservative government in late 2010. In addition to experience, they provide continuity. Their current terms expire Dec. 5 and Nov. 25, respectively.

The chief commissioner’s position was vacated Jan. 20 by Elwin Hermanson, a farmer and former Reform and Saskatchewan Party politician.

The CGC is a federal government agency that reports to Parliament through the minister of agriculture.

In the old days the fact that MacKay and Smolik were appointed by a government of a different political stripe would reduce their chances of reappointment. But Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government says it wants to do things differently — more transparent and less partisan.

This new open hiring process applies to all types of cabinet-appointed positions, including the Senate. But once a short list of suitable, potential candidates is drawn up one would expect all else being equal those with ties to the Liberal party would get the jobs. At least that’s the history of such appointments no matter which party was in power. And it probably wasn’t just driven by partisanship, but a minister’s desire to work with people they trust.

The Conservative government also advertised the commission positions and MacKay, Smolik and Hermanson went through a selection process that included someone from the Prime Minister’s Office, Privy Council Office and Agriculture Canada. The committee prepared a short list of suitable candidates to Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz who made the final selection.

In the past, the process was much less transparent. Presumably appointees had what it took to do the job. The three commissioners are the CGC executive setting the organiziation’s direction, establishing policy and administering and enforcing the Canada Grain Act. The commissioners also have quasi-judicial powers on some matters.

While ideally those chosen will have the right experience and aptitude, a commissioner learns on the job. Few people have a working knowledge of the Canada Grain Act, or understand wheat chemistry or the many other things the CGC does.

The tradition of both Liberal and Conservative governments has been to appoint commissioners from each of the three Prairie provinces (or the British Columbia Peace River District). In addition commissioners have been farmers or retired farmers, or as in the case of current commissioner MacKay, from the grain industry. MacKay headed terminal operations for Agricore United, giving him practical grain quality control and logistical experience.

The CGC was created in 1912 following years of protests from western farmers who complained grain companies and railways weren’t treating them fairly. The strength of the commissioner system is it gives the grain sector, including farmers, confidence those overseeing the CGC understand the grain business and especially farmers’ needs.

“As set out in the Canada Grain Act, the Canadian Grain Commission’s mandate is to, in the interests of producers, establish and maintain standards of quality for Canadian grain and regulate grain handling in Canada to ensure a dependable commodity for domestic and export markets,” the government says in its posting for a new chief commissioner.

A big part of the CGC’s role is grain quality control, which underlies Canada’s reputation for delivering high-quality grain.

The government has a long list of qualifications for want-to-be commissioners. These include “experience in maintaining effective relationships with, and balancing the interests of multiple stakeholders with divergent views, demonstrated experience in decision-making with respect to sensitive and complex issues, and significant management experience at the senior executive level in private or public sector organizations. Experience in a private or public sector organization with diverse technical and regulatory responsibility would be considered an asset, and experience in the production and handling of grain, as well as experience in dealing with the transportation, marketing and processing of grain would be considered assets.”

But the government is also seeking candidates with diversity.

“Preference may be given to candidates who are members of one or more of the following groups: women, indigenous peoples, disabled persons, and members of visible minorities,” the government says.

Only two commissioners have been women. The first was Beth Candlish, who served between Dec. 3, 1981 and Jan. 24, 1986.

She was followed by Chris Hamblin, who was appointed in March 2002 and became chief commissioner Oct. 2, 2002 and served until Oct. 2, 2007.

There’s talk the government might appoint someone from Eastern Canada. There have been assistant commissioners (a position that no longer exists) from the East, but no eastern commissioners in at least 30 years, if ever.

And while the Canada Grain Act applies across the country, its scope and the CGC’s mandate are limited outside of the Prairies. Still when asked last week, industry officials said it doesn’t matter where a commissioner comes from so long as he or she is the right person for the job.

About the author

Reporter

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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