Several key agriculture bills languish as summer nears

Crunch time has hit Parliament Hill.

Several key pieces of legislation, many of interest to Canadian agriculture, remain on Parliament’s agenda with less than two months left in the sitting calendar before MPs and senators head home to their ridings for the summer.

The governing Liberals find themselves staring at a laundry list that will require much co-ordination and knowledge of parliamentary procedure to get passed, something the current government isn’t always known for in Ottawa circles.

First is Bill C-49, the Liberal’s proposed overhaul of Canada’s transportation system, a piece of legislation considered critical by shippers and farm groups still grappling with this year’s transportation delays.

Transport Minister Marc Garneau announced late Friday he was rejecting nine of the 19 amendments passed by the Senate at the end of March.

The rejected amendments address non-grain portions of the legislation, including things like joint venture agreements and the rights of airline passengers.

However, the federal transport minister has proposed changes to one amendment that deals with grain.

The Senate had agreed to grant the Canadian Transportation Agency something called “own motion powers,” which would allow the agency to investigate reports of shipping delays and poor service without a formal complaint. Those powers have long been requested by shippers and the agency itself.

Under Garneau’s proposed amendment, the agency would be allowed to initiate an investigation only at the discretion of the federal transport minister. The CTA would also be required to follow any terms and conditions outlined by him or her.

Changes have also been made to long-haul interswitching, while an amendment that would add soybeans to the maximum revenue entitlement, which limits how much railways can earn when moving certain crops, has been modified.

Ottawa’s actions when it comes to the grain portion of the bill have been applauded by farm groups across Western Canada.

The federal transport minister’s decision to reject many of the Senate amendments could mean Parliament is headed for a procedural showdown between the Senate and House of Commons. The amendments must first be debated in the House before being sent back to the Senate. The Senate could then choose to reinstate some of the removed amendments.

Transportation isn’t the only file with legislation still travelling through the Commons.

MPs are in the midst of wrapping up clause-by-clause discussions on Bill S-228, which deals with the marketing of unhealthy foods to children. The bill started in the Senate and is making its way through the Commons.

The legislation is being closely watched by farm and food groups. Some say they’re concerned the bill could have serious implications for agriculture supply chains, particularly since many of the accompanying regulations have not yet been made public.

Others have said they’re concerned the legislation could have unintended consequences for recreational sports teams.

Then there’s the budget implementation legislation, which is needed to bring the Liberal’s proposed fiscal plan for 2018-2019 into force. The bill is being analyzed by the House of Commons finance committee.

As well, two bills related to the Liberal promise to legalize marijuana continue to work through the now independent Senate, where the Liberals can’t always control the outcome. The legislation has already faced a dicey vote or two in the red chamber and continues to face stiff criticism from Conservative senators.

On the trade front,the renamed TPP-11 agreement has been of significant interest to export-dependent agriculture given ongoing global trade tensions and the ongoing renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Canada has said it wants to be among the first six countries to ratify the agreement.

To accomplish that, the trade deal’s implementation legislation must be passed by both houses of Parliament.

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