Evidence has surfaced that the Canadian Grain Commission’s chief commissioner is promoting a pro-company agenda in a pending review of the Canada Grain Act while sidelining two assistant commissioners in the process.
The review was announced at a meeting of the industry’s Grains Round Table and confirmed in last week’s federal budget. It said 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.”
Why it matters: The review centres around the historical mandate of the commission to protect the interests of farmers, seen by some as fundamental and characterized by others as redundant.
That’s raised concerns about eroding the long-standing system of quality guarantees for both farmers and customers. That includes the official system of grades from farmer to customer, and the ‘Certificate Final’ document the CGC must issue on every cargo to guarantee that it meets grade specifications.
Grain companies say that would increase efficiency and save money, but some farmers worry it could undermine Canada’s quality-control brand.
Speaking to a Canadian Federation of Agriculture meeting in Vancouver last September, AGT president and CEO Murad Al-Katib called for changes to the system, and said they had support from CGC chief commissioner Patti Miller. He said the Canada Grain Act is “archaic and left over from a Canadian Wheat Board centralized marketing system.”
“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.”
Saskatchewan farmer Norm Hall told Al-Katib the CGC was created to protect farmers.
“We actually have the chief commissioner supportive and requesting us to consider that type of modernization,” Al-Katib replied.
Viterra president and CEO Kyle Jeworski also called for CGC deregulation when he spoke March 6 at the Canadian Crops Convention in Montreal.
“We need to remove unnecessary regulations,” he said. “There are many examples — grain grading, weighing, inspection. There are things that add cost and delays in our industry.”
Reliable sources said some CGC staff were shocked the government used the word “redundant” in its announcement of the review, saying it showed the government sides with grain companies before hearing from farmers.
They say assistant CGC chief commissioner Doug Chorney and commissioner Lonny McKague, both farmers, were sidelined while Miller pushed the pro-grain company agenda with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC).
Miller denied that in a March 18 interview, but did acknowledge she and the other commissioners had a difference of opinion. Chorney and McKague declined to be interviewed on the issue. Both signed an op-ed the commission submitted this week.
Last week Miller didn’t respond directly to allegations she influenced the Agri-Food Round Table, instead stating in an email the commissioners support modernizing the grain act — something previous governments have attempted but failed to do.
“Beyond that, what we have said, and will continue to say, is that we need to do our homework before drawing conclusions on how the act should evolve,” Miller wrote. “This is a significant policy discussion and everyone in the grains and oilseeds value chain, from farmers to exporters, needs the opportunity to weigh in on the options and their implications.”
However, some are concerned that farmers’ interests are not being reflected in the review.
“It’s this predetermined agenda that really concerns me,” one source said. “And there’s really little regard for farmer interests, which is perverse in that, that’s the very reason the Canadian Grain Commission was created. The mandate was ‘in the interest of producers.’ They want to take that away.”