Ag agenda include new policy framework, grain transportation

They’re back.

MPs returned to Parliament from their summer recess to a political agenda jam packed with committee meetings, policy points and a to-do list several miles long.

The Conservative leadership race is well underway, with the latest developments triggering a shuffle in the official opposition’s front benches. Former House speaker turned Conservative House leader Andrew Scheer announced he was relinquishing his role as House leader to form an exploratory committee to consider whether he should run for party leader. The shakeup means Manitoba MP Candice Bergen, who long championed the end of the long gun registry, is now House leader, with Alberta MP Chris Warkentin taking over as deputy House leader.

Prior to the shuffle, Warkentin had served as the party’s agriculture critic and was the lone prairie MP on the House agriculture committee. His successor is David Anderson, who before entering politics farmed outside of Frontier, Sask.

Anderson is no stranger to the agriculture file. He acted as parliamentary secretary for the Canadian Wheat Board in former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government from 2006-13 and played a key role in the Conservatives’ mission to ensure marketing freedom for prairie grain farmers. During the grain transportation crisis of 2013-14, Anderson championed the concerns of short-line shippers who were struggling to get rail cars.

He remains party critic for human rights and religious freedoms.

Meanwhile, no leadership candidates have been declared in the ongoing race to be NDP leader, where outgoing leader Tom Mulcair remains interim leader.

On the policy front, several key files, including agriculture ones, are at the top of the agenda.

The House transport committee is kicking off its fall sitting by looking at grain transportation and the Fair Rail for Grain Farmers Act.

The committee’s study comes at the same time that Canada’s grain industry is preparing to move what is expected to be a big crop in Western Canada.

The committee’s witness list includes testimony from the top officials in the Canadian Transportation Agency and several grain groups, including Grain Growers of Canada, Cereals Canada and the Canadian Federation of Agriculture. Former transport minister David Emerson, who headed the fast-tracked review of Canada’s Transportation Act, is also set to testify.

Meanwhile, Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay is in the committee hot seat at international trade on border issues affecting Canadian agriculture goods. The Sept. 20 meeting comes after Conservative MPs called an emergency summer meeting to pressure the Liberals on diafiltered milk and spent fowl, two files which the Liberals have promised they are working on in conjunction with industry.

MacAulay is also expected to make an appearance at the House agriculture committee (at his earliest convenience) on the diafiltered milk file.

The agriculture minister is also slated to be a key note speaker at the Canadian Meat Council’s annual meeting in Ottawa at the end of September alongside cabinet colleague Health Minister Jane Philpott.

As for the agriculture committee, it will hit the road in October for two weeks of study on the next agriculture funding framework.

The committee will spend one week in Western Canada with stops planned in Winnipeg, Calgary, Chilliwack, B.C., and Vancouver. The second week, after Thanksgiving, will include stops in Guelph, Toronto, the Niagara region of Ontario, Saint Hyacinthe, Que., and Kentville, N.S. The trip is expected to cost $73,432.50.

As for non-agriculture files, the Liberals face an uphill battle with the provinces over their new national climate change strategy. The yet-to-be-developed policy is needed for Canada to meet its international targets agreed to during last year’s Climate Summit in Paris. The provinces are set to meet on the file in October.

Meanwhile, the Liberals are expected to propose reforms on access to information, innovation, infrastructure, transportation, electoral reform and immigration.

Buckle up, it’s going to be a hectic ride.

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