A deliberate and unhurried hand at the agricultural policy tiller

Marie-Claude Bibeau isn't likely to shy away from tough areas, or be rushed into "fixing" them

Federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau isn’t scare of talking about agricultural policy.

That’s a good thing, because one thing any Canadian Agriculture Minister must be willing to do is talk about ag policy. And talk and talk and talk.

Everybody wants to talk to whoever the ag minister is, and in the agriculture industry that adds up to a heck of a lot of organizations and people. Other industries, sectors and slices of our society have organizations that represent their varied interests, but there’s nothing like ag. Usually a few organizations can sum up the main interests of an industry, but this is greatly complicated in agriculture because of farmers. Instead of there being a couple of giant players, a handful of medium-sized players and a scattering of tiny players, agriculture is dominated by the interests of tens of thousands of farmers, who produce a bewildering array of commodities, spread across all the provinces of Canada. Often each province has independent organizations for each crop, creating a plethora of voices that all want to be heard. And farming is political. Farmers still have great political influence, even if those farming don’t often see that. When’s the last time you heard the coal industry’s voice in the news? Aluminum? Today I found a number of references to farmers in the Globe and Mail, and that’s not unusual. Farmers have lots of voices, and they all expect to be heard by the agriculture minister. So do all the players in the grain industry, the transportation industry, the ports and the food industry, which are built atop the ag industry.

I recently had the chance to have a chat with Bibeau about her priorities and hopes for this second year of her tenure as ag minister and her government’s second term in power. Click on this link to see what she had to say.

If you want to hear the whole interview, click on this link to hear the audio in a special edition of the Between the Rows podcast.

I’ve spoken to Bibeau a few times over her first year in the ag office. I was in Montreal when she appeared at the Canadian Crops Convention just a day or two after China began blocking Canadian canola sales, which was quite a way for the ag portfolio to introduce itself to her, and at a couple of meetings since.

I’ve always found her thoughtful, well-briefed, and above all deliberate in her thinking. She appears to be a serious policy person unafraid to wade into the complexities of policy, but also unwilling to be drawn into hasty action. She seems to want to hear things out, think things out, then act. Farmers might want faster action on some issues, such as carbon taxes on grain drying, but they probably also want well-conceived redesigns of things like Canada’s farm safety net and the superstructure of the Canadian grain regulatory system. We’ll see if she can deliver on the latter, which would appear to be in keeping with her approach. She’s unlikely to be rushed into “fixing” any of the things we blabber about on Twitter, but if she can deliver on the latter, the former won’t seem like such a big deal.

 

 

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