NEW RULES HAVE TEETH
BY TREVOR BACQUE • PHOTO: REMI GOSSELIN, CANADIAN GRAIN COMMISSION HEAD OF COMMUNICATIONS
With updated legally binding grain declarations in place for Western Canada’s farmers, it’s important to remember that the delivery of grain has been given a new layer of complexity.
The Canada Grain Act was amended with three key changes as of Aug. 1, 2020, as part of concessions made during negotiations with the U.S. and Mexico on the re-written Canada–U.S.–Mexico Agreement (CUSMA).
One of these changes applies to American grain imported into Canada. It will now be given an official grade provided it’s a registered variety. Wheat, for example, was previously given an automatic downgrade to feed, regardless of quality. Another change is the removal of the country of origin statement on inspection certificates if grown in the U.S. Last is the legal implications for Canadian farmers regarding grain declarations.
If a farmer is found to be in violation of the terms of the declaration, which are available on the Canadian Grain Commission (CGC) website, they will now be subject to fines, imprisonment or both. However, the government doubts the more severe penalties will be acted upon.
“The government took those steps to protect its quality assurance program,” said Remi Gosselin, head of communications for the CGC. “Now this is in place for Canadian and American producers. This is not to create any kind of any uneven regulatory playing fields.”
Industry commented on the proposed changes through consultations last spring and summer before the legislation was formally changed. One glaring omission, however, is the lack of a formal dispute mechanism should a disagreement breakout between the farmer and a line company, crush plant or pulse processor.
“We need to provide some mechanism to have farmers treated fairly as opposed to just an ad hoc system of, ‘well, we’ll work it out,’” said Tom Steve, Alberta Wheat and Barley Commissions general manager. “There is more and more onus on the farmer and very little onus on the buyer of those commodities once they have accepted it.”
Gosselin conceded it’s a “fair point” that there is no dispute mechanism, but government was left with few options due to existing language in the Canada Grain Act.
“The challenge that legislators and legal drafters had was the way the Canada Grain Act was constructed,” he said. “It doesn’t identify specific grains, just grains in general. To specifically single out wheat would have required a complete re-write of the Act. It made more sense to apply it to all grains.”
The regulatory changes are already in effect from B.C. to Manitoba, but not in Ontario and points east. The six eastern Canadian provinces have a one-year reprieve before the legal declarations come into effect. Since those provinces do not have a declaration-style system in place as in Western Canada, the delayed introduction was necessary according to Gosselin. “What we heard before declarations were rolled out, because delivery declarations were not used in Eastern Canada, they needed some time to implement that,” he said.
That logic reiterates Steve’s point that the process could have been managed better overall. “That simply underlines our concern that this could have been implemented a little more smoothly to make it work for farmers, industry and the integrity of our grain handling system,” he said.
The CGC is confident this change will have minimal impact on the average Prairie farmer, despite knowing that this may be a “minor irritant for some,” explained Gosselin.
For more information, visit grainscanada.gc.ca.