Cabinet ministers’ job description vague on some issues

Prime minister Justin Trudeau has issued his marching orders to the country’s new federal cabinet ministers.

In a series of mandate letters released to the public Nov. 13, Trudeau outlined his priorities for each of his 30 cabinet ministers. Many items included in the letters, which averaged about four pages in length, are expected to be included in the Liberal government’s speech from the throne Dec. 3.

Several points of note for Canadian agriculture are scattered across a handful of ministries.

With Growing Forward 2 halfway through its mandate, negotiations are about to begin on the next five-year agriculture funding framework, currently known as Growing Forward 3.

Farm and industry groups have already said GF3 must include improvements to research funding and a review of Canada’s current suite of business risk management programs.

Both of these areas have been included in Trudeau’s mandate letter to agriculture minister Lawrence MacAulay.

The government will “work with producers and provincial governments to assess whether the suite of farm income safety nets meets the needs of Canadian farmers when they are faced with serious challenges beyond their control” as part of the Growing Forward 3 program, the letter reads.

Canada’s business risk management programs — AgriStability, AgriInvest and AgriRecovery — has been criticized by farmers and industry. Most complaints are focused on AgriStability, which is an income stabilizer when margins fall.

The Conservative government made cuts to business risk management in 2012 when it negotiated Growing Forward 2. It reduced the payment trigger for AgriStability from 85 percent of five-year reference margins to 70 percent, a change critics say has made AgriStability unusable.

The Liberals are also promising to “support discovery science and innovation in the sector.”

The Liberals promised an additional $100 million for agriculture research during the election campaign, promising to “establish a transparent process that involves food producers” to ensure funding is better allocated.

However, MacAulay’s mandate letter does not include specifics about where the money will be spent or how researchers will be able to access it.

Nor does it explain the purpose of the $160 million Agri-Food Value Added Investment Fund, which the Liberals promised to create during the election campaign.

Agriculture issues also crept their way into the mandate letters of transport minister Marc Garneau, health minister Jane Philpott, who is responsible for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, infrastructure minister Amarjeet Sohi and international trade minister Chrystia Freeland.

Garneau is responsible for the government’s response to the ongoing Canada Transportation Act review. A final report must be submitted to Garneau by the end of December, at which point the government will have 30 sitting days to table its response. MacAulay has also been instructed to keep an eye on the review.

Meanwhile, Trudeau has asked Sohi and MacAulay to develop an infrastructure plan to make “significant investments in transportation infrastructure, including short-line rail spurs and inland and port loading terminals to improve efficiency, remove bottlenecks and increase system capacity.”

Philpott has been asked to continue redesigning Canada’s food labels, including the development of regulations aimed at reducing the amount of salt found in processed food and the elimination of trans fats.

She’s also been told to introduce “new restrictions on the commercial marketing of un-healthy food and beverages to children, similar to those now in place in Quebec.”

No details were provided on where the $80 million promised to the CFIA over four years will be spent.

Philpott’s letter also bears no mention of the ongoing review of neonicotinoid pesticides by the Pest Management Regulatory Agency. A final report is expected this fall.

On the trade file, Trudeau has identified China and India as two markets where Canada could make gains. Freeland’s letter includes a vague reference to defending agricultural interests in future trade negotiations, along with instructions to implement the Canada-Europe Trade Agreement and the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Neither Freeland’s or MacAulay’s letters include a reference to the yet-to-be-finalized $4.3 billion compensation package promised to Canada’s supply management farmers for concessions made under CETA and the TPP.

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