Opinion: Plenty of work for new-look Agriculture Committee

This body is generally fair minded and pragmatic, an anomaly for Ottawa

Members of Parliament sitting on the committee studying agricultural and agri-food issues will have no shortage of topics to explore.

The first meeting of the current parliamentary session was held on Oct. 8, the latest since July.

It was then MPs were concluding the work they had done studying business risk management (BRM) programs. Between February and July, over the course of seven meetings, members of the committee heard testimony from about 45 stakeholders.

The work was valuable because it allowed lawmakers to hear directly, in a public forum, from just about every sector.

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Work of the committee led to the release of data showing the majority of farmers have minimal amounts available in their AgriInvest accounts, which ran counter to messaging from the federal government.

In June, MPs on the committee wrote a letter to Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Marie-Claude Bibeau highlighting some of their findings, in hopes it would help inform her during now-delayed discussions with the provinces.

This was valuable because it involved members of several different political parties agreeing on where, and how, the programs can be improved.

The letter to Bibeau was supposed to be followed by a fuller report from members, but the parliamentary session ending prevented that.

Committee members voted in their first meeting back to reinstate that work, and there is now expectation of a full report.

Meetings in May and June featured a study into the impacts COVID-19 was having on the sector.

This allowed stakeholders to give real-time updates on how the pandemic was impacting their businesses and which COVID-19 support measures were and were not working.

Again, it was valuable work being done by politicians representing four different parties.

Despite some partisan gamesmanship, the committee traditionally does a good, pragmatic and fair-minded job – particularly relative to the work of some other committees.

Hopefully that will continue in the newest iteration of the committee. There will be differences.

Most notably, longtime Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) Agriculture Critic John Barlow won’t be there.

Barlow’s strong understanding of the issues and ability to gather information from witnesses was a huge asset to the committee.

Lianne Rood, the rookie MP who replaced Barlow as ag critic, will be tasked with filling those big shoes. While there is no doubt Rood’s background demonstrates a knowledge of the file, she never really stood out during previous meetings.

She’ll have a chance to shine in this role, particularly because of a lack of experience among her party mates on the committee.

Beauce MP Richard Lehoux has proven competent, particularly in representing the views of the dairy industry, but Dave Epp (Chatham-Kent—Leamington) and Warren Steinley (Regina-Lewvan) will be sitting on the committee for the first time.

They do have farming backgrounds, which will prove helpful. I don’t know much about Epp, but during his stint as an MLA in Saskatchewan’s legislature, Steinley was an enthusiastic if ineffective lawmaker.

The Liberal members will continue to rely on the likes of Glengarry-Prescott-Russell MP Francis Drouin to do their heavy lifting, backed by a group of MPs with experience on the committee.

About the author

Reporter

D.C. Fraser

D.C. Fraser is Glacier FarmMedia’s Ottawa-based reporter. Growing up mostly in Alberta, Fraser also lived in Saskatchewan for ten years where he covered politics, including a stint teaching at the University of Regina’s School of Journalism. He is an avid fan of the outdoors and a pretty good beer league hockey player. His passion for agriculture and agri-food policy comes naturally: Six consecutive generations of his family have worked in the industry.

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