Immediate issues include a rail strike, trade disputes with China, updating the Grain Act and a seed royalty proposal
OTTAWA — Quebec MP Marie-Claude Bibeau will keep her role as federal agriculture minister following a shake-up of the new Liberal minority government cabinet.
She will join her colleagues — including Marc Garneau, who remains transport minister, and newly sworn-in Labour Minister Filomena Tassi — in having to deal immediately with calls for Parliament to be reconvened early to pass back-to-work legislation for striking Canadian National Railway employees.
As of last week, Tassi’s office was expected to take the lead role in handling the issue of 3,200 striking conductors, train workers and yard workers at CN, which is expected to affect bulk freight traffic and the movement of western Canadian grain.
That has prompted calls from industry leaders and some provincial governments for Parliament to be reconvened before it is scheduled to do so Dec. 5.
Ministers were non-committal on forcing employees back to work. Tassi told reporters following her swearing-in that she had spoken with both parties and her priority is to ensure they are working hard to come to an agreement.
Added Garneau: “We feel there is a solution at hand” and a “light at the end of the tunnel.”
Bibeau is also facing continued calls for business risk management and advanced payment programs to be redeveloped. Grain Growers of Canada continues to ask the federal government to include coverage of margin losses below 85 percent along with removal of the reference margin limit.
She will meet with her provincial counterparts in December, where BRM programs are expected to be a priority. Bibeau said she “looks forward” to those meetings.
“We’re working with the industry, we’re working with our colleagues from the different provinces to try and get the best strategy,” she said.
“This is definitely a very high priority for me.”
There is also a need to address updating the Grain Act and a seed royalty proposal.
Bibeau has served as agriculture minister since March and is generally spoken highly of by those within industry who work with her.
It’s expected she will also continue to play a part in expanding international market access for producers and end a ban on Canadian canola exports to China.
That ban stems from the arrest of Huawei Technologies executive Meng Wanzhou at the request of the United States, which was followed by Chinese authorities detaining two Canadians and accusing them of espionage.
The two detained Canadians remain a priority for the federal government, meaning foreign affairs and its new minister, Francois-Philippe Champagne, will take the lead on engaging China.
Farmers are also looking for relief from costs associated with carbon pricing, including recognition of practices already taking place to reduce carbon emissions.
Addressing that demand will fall on British Columbia MP Jonathan Wilkinson, the new environment minister. He was considered a natural choice to take over the position from Catherine McKenna because of his previous work in the sector. Wilkinson has roots in Saskatchewan, having worked for former NDP Premier Roy Romanow.
Overall, the cabinet favours Ontario and Quebec regionally, but the government is trying to assure voters, particularly in Alberta and Saskatchewan, that it is not blind to regional differences. To that end, Manitoba MP Jim Carr, undergoing treatment for a form of blood cancer, has been named as “special adviser” for the Prairies.
No Liberals were elected in Alberta or Saskatchewan, increasing regional tensions and concerns that those provinces would be left without a voice at the cabinet table. Carr was not sworn into cabinet, but Chrystia Freeland will try to calm tensions in her new position as deputy prime minister and minister of intergovernmental affairs.
Bibeau’s appointment was met with a flurry of news releases from industry groups congratulating her.
“We are looking forward to continuing our relationship with Minister Bibeau and the cabinet as a whole over the coming months and years,” said GGC chair Jeff Nielsen in a release.
“We are ready to carry on the important work of ensuring a competitive environment where Canadian agriculture can survive and thrive.”
Added a statement from Rick Bergmann, chair of the Canadian Pork Council: “On behalf of pork producers across Canada, I would like to congratulate Minister Bibeau on her appointment as minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.… Over the past nine months, producers have appreciated her availability to hear concerns and work on solutions. The collaboration shown by staff under her leadership has been very much appreciated by the pork sector.”