End to CTA round-tables surprises farmers; ag ministers agree on farm program principles

Canada’s agriculture ministers wrapped up their annual meeting in Calgary today with a focus on the future agriculture policy framework.

However, a more pressing issue, grain transportation, was also on their minds.

Saskatchewan minister Lyle Stewart noted this year’s crop could be similar to that of 2013. The railways struggled to move that crop, and a backlog led the then-Conservative government to invoke temporary measures to get grain moving.

The Liberal government recently extended those measures for one more year and embarked on a consultation after receiving the report of a Canadian Transportation Act review.

However, stakeholders learned this week that the final stakeholder consultation was held Thursday in Winnipeg, leaving them to wonder who has the federal government’s ear.

Norm Hall, president of the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan, said he learned during a presentation at the Canadian Federation of Agriculture board meeting ahead of the federal-provincial-territorial meeting that only Pulse Canada and the Prairie Oat Growers Association were to be heard.

He said he was in Ottawa in mid-June and no one could tell him when the round-tables were happening and now they are actually concluding.

“Apparently they started in early May,” he said.

“Even the ag minister didn’t know when they were happening and now we find out the very last one happens tomorrow.”

Considering the grain backlog was the reason the CTA review was held a year early, Hall said the sector must have more input.

Online consultations will continue through Sept. 16, but that didn’t satisfy Stewart either.

“We have high expectations that our stakeholders will have an opportunity to be engaged in proper face-to-face consultations, and also our government,” he told reporters. “We were assured we would have that opportunity.”

He also said the end point is a concern because of harvest.

“That is a real issue considering it looks like only two of our stakeholder groups may have been consulted with at this point,” he said. “There are quite a number in Saskatchewan alone, and many more in Manitoba and Alberta and other jurisdictions like British Columbia who will want to consult as well, as well as the provincial governments ourselves.

“I think Sept. 16 is likely too soon to wind up consultations at a very bad time of the year for farm groups who are obviously made up of farmers to make themselves available for consultations.”

Federal minister Lawrence MacAulay said efficient grain transportation is critical going forward.

The Calgary Statement issued after the meeting noted Canada relies on efficient systems to maintain its reputation as a reliable supplier.

The statement also outlined the broad principles for the next agricultural policy framework, which at this point will continue to be funded 60 percent by the federal government and 40 percent by the provinces.

The principles include expanding domestic and international markets and trade; enhancing competitiveness through science and innovation; anticipating, mitigating and responding to risks in a way that supports sector sustainability; environmental sustainability; improving value-added and processing and securing public trust.

In terms of business risk management, there was no commitment to restoring AgriStability and AgriInvest to their pre-Growing Forward 2 incarnations, as most farm organizations want. However, ministers said it’s simply too early to make those decisions.

karen.briere@producer.com

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