Ag critics will be watching the next throne speech carefully

After a five-month hiatus, parliamentarians will take their seats in the House of Commons Dec. 3.

Ottawa, quiet recently without the hustle of bustle of the Hill, is back.

First on the agenda is the election of a new speaker of the House of Commons. (Current speaker Andrew Scheer, a Conservative MP from Saskatchewan, has opted not to run for speaker and instead has been named Opposition house leader by interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose.)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will unveil his government’s priorities Dec. 4 in his first speech from the throne since being elected Oct. 19.

While agriculture rarely dominates speeches from the throne, industry and those close to the industry will still watch closely.

Among industry concerns: the fate of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement and the ongoing review of Canada’s grain transportation system, both of which have imminent timelines.

Trudeau has promised to debate the TPP in Parliament and consult with Canadians. When the debate will begin remains unclear. Meanwhile, agriculture minister Lawrence MacAulay has asked agriculture stakeholders to write him about how the TPP will affect their industries.

South of the border, it’s crunch time. American officials and stakeholders have long said the best outcome for the TPP is to have it passed before the American primaries. If that’s the case, Congress must be done debating and reviewing the legislation by the end of January. (The primaries start Feb. 1.)

It’s possible Canada’s own TPP debate timeline could mirror that of its American counterparts.

Poultry, egg and dairy farmers will look to the speech from the throne for hints about a TPP compensation package. The previous Conservative government had promised a $4.3 billion compensation package for supply managed farmers.

The package, then-agriculture minister Gerry Ritz had said, would be used to cover concessions made under the pending Canada-Europe trade deal and the TPP.

International trade minister Chrystia Freeland has said her government is not bound to the commitment, telling reporters recently the package is under review. (The previous cabinet never adopted the spending authorities). With Ritz now the Opposition’s trade critic, expect the fate of the compensation package to be on his radar.

Then there’s the ongoing review of Canada’s grain transportation system.

While the review is not on the main political radar, overshadowed by the Liberals’ plan to decriminalize marijuana, the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis and the war against ISIS, the Canadian Transportation Act could emerge as a sleeping giant politically.

Canada’s two largest railways are powerful stakeholders in Ottawa’s political landscape and are still angry over the previous government’s handling of the 2013-14 crisis. Canadian Pacific Railway is challenging the previous government’s decision to extend the interswitching radius to 160 kilometres from 30 km under their Fair Rail for Grain Farmers Act (C-30). A hearing is scheduled for later this month.

Meanwhile, farm groups hope the review has long-term solutions to their grain transportation woes. The Liberals have said little about the ongoing review, but it did garner a specific mention in both MacAulay and transport minister Marc Garneau’s mandate letters.

Trudeau has also instructed MacAulay and infrastructure minister Amarjeet Sohi 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.”

No more details about how that would work have been released.

With the report’s submission deadline fast approaching, the CTA review could well earn a mention in Friday’s speech from the throne. Review chair David Emerson must submit his report to Garneau by the end of December.

The transport minister then has 30 sitting days to table the review’s recommendations and final report in parliament.

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