MPs head home for summer, but agriculture issues remain hot

The politicians have been sent home to their ridings, their desks in the House of Commons have been cleaned out and preparations are well underway for the summer circuit of barbecues, rodeos and local parades. 


After endless amounts of speculation and three weeks worth of midnight sittings, MPs bid Ottawa adieu June 20. More than a few folks on the Hill were glad to see them go, as partisan bickering soared to unprecedented levels in the chamber. 


Even politicians themselves, when asked, admitted quietly to reporters it was time for a break. After all, politics is a personal and highly emotional affair.


Summer vacation doesn’t necessarily mean a reduction in MPs workloads. Most of the 308 parliamentarians will choose to spend the summer holidays in their ridings meeting and chatting with constituents while perfecting their pancake flipping techniques. 


However, the break is also a chance to catch up on various files and issues in preparation for Parliament’s return in the fall. 


For MPs dealing with agriculture, that means digging into the nitty gritty details of the pending Agricultural Growth Act (Bill C-18). If passed, the bill would amend nine existing agriculture related acts and see Canada ratify UPOV 91, a move highly opposed by the National Farmers Union but supported by most other agriculture groups. 


The bill, which passed second reading June 17, is destined for committee study when Parliament returns in the fall — likely the end of September or early October. 


Also expected to linger on Parliament’s agenda is last winter’s grain transportation crisis. While emergency legislation — the Fair Rail for Grain Farmers Act — passed in late May, none of the bill’s supporting draft regulations had been made public as of June 23. 


Agriculture minister Gerry Ritz has promised those regulations will be finalized by Aug. 1, the start of the next crop year. With public consultations yet to begin, time is running out. 


Industry, opposition MPs and even fellow Conservative politicians will be watching closely to see that the deadline is met. 


Meanwhile, bureaucrats in Transport Canada will see their summer occupied with the fast-tracked rail service review. Transport minister Lisa Raitt has said the review, which was bumped up in light of last winter’s grain backlog, will start in June. The review is expected to be complete before the Fair Rail for Grain Farmers Act expires in August 2016. 


All eyes will be on crop reports, too, as farmers, shippers and the government try to gauge the size of this year’s crop. As stipulated in the legislation, shippers and the railways must sit down with Raitt and Ritz this fall to come up with a shipping plan for the 2014–15 shipping season.


Aside from political policy, several influential agriculture-related decisions are expected this summer. Among them is the highly anticipated World Trade Organization ruling on mandatory country-of-origin labelling, which will be released any day now.


Canada has repeatedly threatened retaliatory action against the United States if the rule isn’t repealed. With support shifting allegiances in parts of the U.S., the WTO’s decision could mean extra work this summer for Ritz and federal trade minister Ed Fast. 


As for trade, a meeting between Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiators is set for early July in Vancouver. Tensions between participating countries are mounting, with New Zealand’s prime minister recently suggesting Japan cut itself out of the talks if it continues to stall on opening up agriculture market access. 


Canada has also been criticized for protecting its agriculture file. Asked what he thought of New Zealand’s position, Ritz told reporters he didn’t want to speak for New Zealand, “but I usually don’t support what New Zealand says.”


As for the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement with the European Union, it’s unlikely the push for more details, particularly on dairy compensation, will dissipate with Parliament’s summer break. 


The past few months have put agriculture back on the federal agenda, albeit thanks to a logistics crisis that forced the government to intervene. Given the above list of issues still pending, it’s unlikely agriculture will be knocked off Parliament’s docket anytime soon. 


After all, with meat prices continuing to soar, MPs will be faced with a friendly reminder this summer about why agriculture matters.

Kelsey Johnson is a reporter with iPolitics, www.ipolitics.ca.

One Response

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  1. Dianne McCollum on

    When the new wheat crop ends up in the bins because the old wheat crop is still being sold….the cap on what the RR’s can charge farmers should be reached about Aug. or Sept. after that the RR’s in keeping their sacred trust to their shareholders will simply pay the $21 million in fines to the feds while making $billions for their shareholders hauling oil.
    Should the CONServatives win a majority in 2015 they will take it to mean that the farmers accept removal of the rail cap just the same as the last majority meant farmers wanted the CWB destroyed & privatized without compensation or even a farmer vote on the issue.

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