If there is one word that summarizes the Trudeau government’s approach to governing thus far it would be consultation.
The Liberals like to study things. Nine times out of 10 when asked about an outstanding issue or file, the response given is that a study is underway or Canadians need to be consulted.
That’s all well and good. There is no question there is a time and place for study. One would also be hard pressed to find a person who is opposed to a government reaching out to stakeholders, experts and Canadians for their opinions on specifics matters — particularly those that have a direct affect on people’s lives.
But there comes a time when the government — be it the minister, the federal cabinet or even Parliament as a whole — must make a decision.
Several key agricultural issues are at this point.
With seeding underway across the country and the start of the next crop year just months away, farmers are looking to the federal government for answers.
First and foremost is the fate of the Fair Rail for Grain Farmers Act, emergency legislation brought in by the former Conservative government at the height of the 2013-14 grain transportation crisis.
The legislation ends Aug. 1. It, among other things, extended interswitching limits, which enables one rail company to operate on portions of a competing rail company’s track, from 30 to 160 kilometres in Western Canada.
Transport Minister Marc Garneau and Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay have said they plan to extend the legislation by one year. That extension requires that a motion be passed by the House of Commons and the Senate.
However, with three sitting weeks left on the parliamentary calendar, time is running out. Also unclear is whether the government plans to extend Bill C-30 in its entirety or just sections of it.
As of May 16, no motion on the bill had been tabled in the House of Commons.
Grain movement isn’t the only agriculture issue facing a time crunch.
MacAulay recently found himself on the hot seat over the ongoing issue of diafiltered milk.
Canadian dairy farmers say U.S. milk proteins are crossing the border and being improperly used in Canadian cheeses thanks to a loophole in Canadian regulations.
The Canadian Border Services Agency considers it as a protein ingredient, while the Canadian Food Inspection Agency says diafiltered milk is milk.
All four federal parties promised on the campaign trail to fix the issue. Yet, more than six months into their mandate, the issue remains unresolved and dairy farmers are livid.
The issue came to a head in early May after a group of Quebec dairy farmers blocked access to the Parmalat plant in Montreal. The protest came the same day the government used its majority to vote down an NDP motion to immediately fix the diafiltered milk problem.
In an effort to placate the industry, MacAulay promised May 3 to meet with the dairy industry within 30 days to come up with a solution. A similar motion has been tabled at the House agriculture committee.
Here’s the catch. Since taking office, MacAulay’s line on the diafiltered milk issue has been that he is working with the industry to find a long-term solution — a remark he’s made repeatedly to the House agriculture committee, in the House of Commons and in media interviews.
By announcing he would meet the dairy industry within 30 days to address both the diafiltered milk issue and the compensation for Canada enacting the Comprehensive and Ecomonic Trade Agreement with the European Union, some were left wondering what had been happening on the files for the last six months.
Like most agriculture issues, the current slate of dairy issues are complicated and solutions are not always clear.
But when a large portion of the sector agrees that there is a regulatory problem that must be dealt with, the federal government is obligated to show leadership.
Sometimes, that leadership comes in the form of tough decision making.