Numerous issues at forefront as politicians return to Hill

Summer is officially drawing to a close and Canada’s federal politicians are heading back to Parliament Hill.

After two months in their ridings, MPs are facing a busy fall agenda as the Liberals settle into office. For Canadian agriculture, there are several files worth watching.

At the House agriculture committee, MPs will pick up where they left off, continuing consultations on Canada’s next Agriculture Policy Framework now that Canada’s agriculture ministers set the framework’s outline in July at their annual meeting. With the broad strokes in place, it’s expected the parliamentary committee will spend part of this fall meeting with stakeholders in various parts of the country as part of Agriculture Canada’s consultations.

The next policy framework isn’t the only item on the committee’s agenda. Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay has been summoned to the committee “at his earliest convenience” to provide an update on the ongoing diafiltered milk issue. A date for that appearance has not be scheduled.

MacAulay has also instructed the agriculture committee to study Canada’s current regulations on genetically modified animals this fall, an order that was issued after Health Canada approved a specific GM salmon last spring. The committee must report back by December.

The Conservatives, with the support of the NDP, called back the international trade committee over the summer for an emergency meeting on diafiltered milk and spent fowl.

A Conservative attempt to force the committee to study those issues further in August, including testimony from MacAulay, International Trade Minister Chrystia Freehand and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale failed to pass. The committee is set to reconvene Sept. 20.

Also worth watching on the trade file: the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed international trade deal with Pacific Rim countries including Canada, and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between Canada and the European Union (CETA). Officials from the Prime Minister’s Officer said CETA was on the agenda for Canadian bilateral meetings with European officials during the recent G20 summit in China, although the outcomes of those meetings are not known. Meanwhile, Canada’s dairy and cheese producers are still waiting for details about a compensation package for concessions made.

As for the TPP, it’s crunch time for the U.S. presidential election. Both candidates have said they are opposed to the TPP trade deal, while congressional support remains hard to pin down.

There’s also a parliamentary committee report expected on Canada’s beleaguered temporary foreign worker program .

The report, which was rushed in June and includes testimony from agriculture stakeholders about their labour shortages, was supposed to be tabled before Parliament recessed for summer, but couldn’t be presented to the House in time.

Also on the labour front, Employment Minister MaryAnn Mihychuck was shuffled quietly this summer off of a handful of internal cabinet committees.

While this shuffle does not raise any issues about Mihychuck’s responsibilities outside of cabinet, it raise questions about the prime minister’s confidence in her performance thus far.

Lastly, Transport Canada consultations on the government’s plans to modernize Canada’s transportation system have wrapped up – albeit not without controversy.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay and Parliamentary Secretary Kate Young spent a week in Saskatchewan talking to stakeholders about rail transportation after it was revealed that neither Saskatchewan nor Manitoba’s agriculture ministers had been consulted by Ottawa on plans for the grain transportation file.

Transport Minister Marc Garneau has said he plans to present his plan for Canada’s transportation system to the House this fall, with all eyes focused on how the transportation system handles this year’s big harvest.

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