Change controversial Despite easy passage, critics suggest that legislation would have benefited from more time and witnesses
Significant changes to Canadian Grain Commission rules and responsibilities slipped through the House of Commons agriculture committee last week with little debate or controversy.
The proposals, which will lead to reduced inspection, an end to in-ward inspection of grain moving between inland terminals and export facilities and tens of millions of dollars in increased farmer user fees, were included in a mammoth budget bill C-45, that initially included little opportunity for detailed study.
The current system of grain trader bonding to cover potential losses for farmers if grain companies go bankrupt before producers are paid would be changed to an insurance system.
The government compromised and agreed to send detailed proposals in the budget bill, including agricultural ones, to appropriate House committees for study.
However, the agriculture committee spent less than two hours reviewing the most significant changes in grain commission rules in two decades and produced little chance for MP input.
Witnesses invited to speak at the short session largely supported the proposed changes.
Grain commission officials spoke, followed by Pulse Canada and Canadian Special Crops Association official Gordon Bacon, Canadian Federation of Agriculture vice-president Humphrey Banack and Canadian Canola Growers Association general manager Richard White.
The agriculture-related portions of the budget bill were then sent back to the finance committee for final approval.
Chief commissioner Elwin Hermanson linked changes to the grain commission with the end of the CWB monopoly this summer.
“We are at a pivotal time in the grain sector, when public policies and regulatory structures need to keep pace with the rapid changes that we see in the marketplace,” he said.
”Modernization of the grain sector is an important priority for this government and modernization began on Aug. 1 of this year with the removal of the Canadian Wheat Board single desk monopoly for wheat and barley.”
Hermanson said many players in the grain industry “feel that the grain sector needs a revised Canada Grain Act to remain modern, competitive and profitable.”
However, opposition MPs, including New Democrat Niki Ashton from Churchill, Man., complained that few witnesses were able to appear at the committee hearing, including representatives of Churchill and Winnipeg, where jobs will be lost by CGC downsizing.
NDP agriculture critic Malcolm Allen said in a later interview that witness lists seemed directed to supporting government changes.
“With such limited time, there really isn’t a chance to get different voices before the committee,” he said.