PARLIAMENT GETS BACK TO WORK
BY ERIN GOWRILUK
The 43rd Parliament convened Dec. 5, 2019. By the time you read this, it’s likely the Liberal’s minority government will have survived its first confidence test following its throne speech. Although the Liberals command a solid minority, allowing them to govern with the support of any one of the three largest opposition parties, the situation adds complexity.
The Liberals have ruled out the formation of a coalition—formal or informal—and aim to seek support on an issue-by-issue basis. This is good for the agriculture sector and for western Canadian farmers.
As your representatives in Ottawa, the Grain Growers of Canada (GGC) will ascertain who the dance partners might be on specific issues. Some of these may be too controversial for the new government to approach, as the Liberals likely wish to avoid another election in the short term.
We are prepared to leverage aspects of the Liberal, Conservative and NDP platforms to advance priority issues for our 65,000 farmers across the country. We expect the Liberals to seek support from the NDP on labour, climate change and social justice issues and the support of the Conservatives on pipelines, trade and business risk management.
Yves-François Blanchet, leader of the Bloc Québécois, has repeatedly stated the aim of his party is not to defeat Parliament, but to work with it to represent Quebec’s interests. The Bloc defends supply management. While the NDP has pledged support for supply management, it has also committed to mitigate the negative financial impacts of trade disruptions for export-oriented farmers.
The Liberals did little for the export-dependent ag sector when key markets like China, Italy and India started closing their doors to Canadian exports. This differed in their approach to the supply-managed sector, which was compensated following concessions made under the CETA and Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreements. By a curious twist of fate, the minister of agriculture will likely be tested by the NDP to come up with a credible solution for farmers hit hard by recent trade problems. This would demonstrate the Liberals are addressing concerns from all regions of the country.
The Liberals and Conservatives both recognized the importance of restructuring AgriStability during the election cycle. The Liberal party platform included a commitment to complete a review of the AgriStability program and offered to increase federal funding. The Conservative party platform included a commitment to work with farmers and the provinces to make AgriStability more “simple, predictable, bankable and timely.”
This issue is significant because any financial injections to AgriStability will require provincial support. The federal, provincial and territorial agriculture ministers will honour their commitment to revisit improvements to AgriStability when they meet on December 17 in the nation’s capital. This is a step in the right direction. Restructuring business risk management programs is critical to protect Canadian farmers from risks beyond their control, including trade disruptions.
It remains to be seen how this minority government scenario will affect the highly anticipated consultation to modernize the Canada Grain Act and the Canadian Grain Commission. Also unknown is how the federal minority will impact the review of the Pest Control Products Act and a likely consultation on improvements to the regulatory approval process for plants with novel traits.
In the government’s approach to the latter, the GGC advocates a rigorous, science-, evidence- and risk-based regulatory system that protects human health and the environment. Federal policies should also enable reliable access to crop protection products and plant-breeding innovations.
During the campaign, the Liberals committed to an increase in collaboration between Canadian scientists, researchers and innovators in G7 countries and advanced economies. This promise of open collaboration is a step toward achieving these objectives while increasing alignment with our trading partners.
The prime minister’s challenge is substantial. Success depends on how the Liberals collaborate with opposition parties and how aggressive the opposition parties are in opposing the government. The GGC has an important role to play in ensuring the government is willing to form partnerships in addressing priority issues. In many cases, this will require the Liberals to work with the Conservatives, the NDP and the Bloc to meet the needs of grain farmers.
Erin Gowriluk is the executive director of the Grain Growers of Canada.