OTTAWA – As agriculture minister Ralph Goodale prepares to face the House of Commons again this month, there is early evidence of growing industry and political unease about his performance.
The neophyte minister still receives high marks for hard work, sincerity, accessibility and consultation, but there is a swelling chorus of critics demanding action.
“I’m detecting from farmers across the country an increasing level of concern,” Canadian federation of agriculture president Jack Wilkinson said last week.
“We have all given him the benefit of the doubt, but I’m hearing a lot of rumbling that it is time he put his stamp on things and get things done.”
Added another farm lobbyist who offered comment on a condition of anonymity because of ongoing discussions with the government: “I think the honeymoon is over. Goodale had better start to produce soon or risk alienating his constituency.”
Even those who praise the minister concede there are looming concerns.
Praise for pesticide registration
Steve Whitney of the Canadian Horticultural Council praised Goodale for proceeding with plans to reform the pesticide registration system.
“At the political level, there has been a recognition that this must be brought to a conclusion and that is very positive for us.”
However, he said there is less farmer satisfaction on other files.
Reform MPs have accused him of weakness in trade negotiations and indecisiveness. Leader Preston Manning called him a “cream puff” minister.
“My patience has run out,” said Vegreville MP Leon Benoit. “I don’t think he is the right person for the job.”
Even some provincial agriculture ministers have complained that Ottawa in general, and Goodale in particular, are not providing leadership on issues ranging from grain transportation and supply management reform to safety net reform.
Part of it is a lack of federal money.
Part of it is the fact that Goodale has launched numerous studies and consultations which have delayed decision-making.
“I think he has to begin to produce,” a federal official said last week. “The last minister (Charlie Mayer) faced the rap of not listening. This minister is risking the rap of listening too much, substituting talk for action”
To his critics, Goodale says the period of consultation and study was necessary for a new government.
“I would think the next 12 to 18 months will be a period of high energy and activity for agriculture in Canada,” he said in a Sept. 2 interview.
Through the eyes of CFA president Wilkinson, that had better not be idle talk.
“On many of these issues, there really has been nothing substantive from the government to flesh out their pre-election promises,” he said.