Lack of experience among ag committee worrisome

The inexperience evident on the new House of Commons agriculture committee should give pause to everyone in Canada’s agricultural sector.

Fewer than half of the 10-member committee are farmers. Three of the four members with direct agricultural experience are serving on the opposition side. And half the committee is made up of first time MPs who are learning the intricacies of government.

The four who can claim direct contact with the soil are: greenhouse operator and Liberal Pat Finnigan, who is chair; retired farmer and Conservative Bev Shipley, who is vice-chair; farmer and Conservative Chris Warkentin, who is his party’s agriculture critic; and farmer and Conservative Jacques Gourde, the deputy ag critic.

Of the 10, only one is from the Prairies. Warkentin represents the Alberta riding of Grande Prairie-Mackenzie. Otherwise, the committee has three members from Ontario, three from Quebec, two from New Brunswick and one from British Columbia.

With all respect to Warkentin, one person speaking for the interests of prairie agriculture is akin to forming a fisheries committee with one member from the coast.

Only 12 Liberals were elected on the Prairies, along with 44 Conservatives and six New Democrats. One must concede that there were limited choices for Liberal appointees from Canada’s breadbasket, but it does not explain why half of the agriculture committee members have no government or committee experience.

It sends a message that agriculture is not a priority for this government. No strong agricultural or rural agenda has been offered by Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, so it would appear no great things are expected from this committee.

It is a worry for the agricultural sector, which generates billions of dollars and thousands of jobs in this country. It is vibrant and it is important.

Shipley and Ruth Ellen Brosseau, the NDP ag critic, will be tasked with providing continuity between this committee and the last, as the only two who have served on it before.

They can anticipate that their counterparts face a steep learning curve as they become acquainted with files such as agricultural trade, grain transport and the next incarnation of business risk management programs. Such simple issues — not.

It is often said that inexperience allows people to approach problems with fresh eyes, giving latitude for new approaches and solutions. Those will be welcomed but also carefully scrutinized.

We hold to the belief that people who seek and win elected office have the best interests of their region and their country at heart.

However, it is much more difficult to represent the interests of an industry when MPs know little about it.

Generally speaking, the federal agriculture committee is less partisan than most. Members realize they represent a sector that has an ever-shrinking government focus.

That, at least, is one asset that will allow members to co-operate for the betterment of the nation’s agriculture.

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