Bibeau’s info-gathering stall leads to missed opportunities

Federal politicians will return to Ottawa Jan. 27 to get back to parliamentary business, but by then Canada’s agriculture minister will have already had some time to emphasize the importance of her file and priorities to colleagues.

However, these will largely be missed opportunities for Marie-Claude Bibeau.

In a blatantly apparent attempt to subdue concerns that prairie provinces are being ignored, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet were expected to escape to Winnipeg for a retreat from Jan. 19–21.

When word of this first started spreading a few weeks ago, I thought it was a joke. With all respect to the good people of Winnipeg (and indeed, Manitoba), there is a long list of more desirable Canadian destination points in the middle of January.

But alas, Trudeau just checked off Tofino and British Columbia from his vacation list a few weeks ago, and a group of prominent Liberals holding a “retreat” in Alberta, still in the wake of separatist fervour, may result in a different kind of retreat than what they’re looking for.

So off they went to Winnipeg to cool themselves, particularly when it came to the deliberations that were held.

“Discussions will reflect the government’s commitment to fight climate change, strengthen the middle class, walk the road of reconciliation, keep people safe and healthy and respond to the challenges of an uncertain world,” read a news release from the Prime Minister’s Office sent in advance of the meeting.

This was as vague as it was uninspiring, but at least it left room for farmers to hope Bibeau would argue that fighting climate change should include further exemptions or relief from the carbon tax.

However, nobody should have really expected Bibeau to use these meetings as an opportunity to do so.

The minister has continuously said in recent weeks that she needs more information about the carbon tax and business risk management programs before she can convince her colleagues to allow changes.

While she continues to gather data, the move buys her time to take concrete action on these important files. It also gives her a convenient out from making the case during events such as the cabinet retreat.

Following the visit to Winnipeg, the cabinet returned to Ottawa where, from Jan. 22-24, they were to be joined by their Liberal colleagues for a three-day winter caucus retreat.

This, according to a government news release, “will be a chance to channel input from constituents into shaping the government’s collaborative approach to addressing, among others, priorities related to protecting the environment and strengthening Canada’s middle class.”     

It will be yet another likely missed opportunity for Bibeau to push the agricultural file with her colleagues. Although still relatively new to the portfolio, she will soon run out of excuses to pass up on such opportunities.

At a minimum, she would do well here to pay attention to criticism from the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, which has expressed disappointment over Bibeau being the sole member of the government tasked with implementing the national food policy.

“Any national food policy will require the co-ordination of multiple government departments to be effective, as food touches so many aspects of the daily life of Canadians, and we are disappointed to see the minister of agriculture and agri-food as the sole minister with a mandate specific to the food policy,” it said in a statement.

Bibeau won’t likely capitalize on these opportunities to create tangible change out of farmer concerns over the carbon tax and business risk management, but perhaps she can convince her colleagues to actively join her in implementing new food policy.

D.C. Fraser is Glacier Farm Media’s Ottawa correspondent. Reach out to him by emailing dfraser@farmmedia.com.

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