Bibeau to focus on China, supply management and cost of carbon tax

Federal agriculture minister also commits to fixing business risk management programs 
so that they can respond to new risks

The Western Producer’s Ed White recently had a chance to ask federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau about her priorities as her government moves into its second term and into her second year as ag minister. Bibeau’s responses have been edited for length.

ON HER DEPARTMENT’S PRIORITIES

A: Re-opening the Chinese market is going to be an important file we are working on. Making sure that African swine fever doesn’t come to Canada, not even to the Americas, is something that we pay a lot of attention to…. Finalizing supply management compensation, and improving the business risk management programs. The list of priorities is quite long, but these are some of the most important ones.

Improving the business risk management is very important because the risks have changed in recent years. We can see that the weather is always more unpredictable and trade disruptions and technical and non-tariff barriers are also unpredictable. We have to make our business risk management programs better and more generous to support our farmers.

We are not always trying to find short-term solutions — that farmers have tools in place they know they can rely on, and that they know is adapted to the new reality.

ON THE COMMON PERCEPTION THAT AGRISTABILITY DOESN’T WORK AND IF SHE THINKS SHE CAN FIX THE SITUATION

A: Yes, it has to (be fixed). My first question is, is AgriStability the best mechanism? This is why we have asked our officials (both federal and provincial governments) to come back to us no later than April and tell us: do they work? Are they meeting the goals that they have been designed to deal with? If not, where are the gaps?

ON WHY THE GOVERNMENT HASN’T REMOVED THE CARBON TAX ON FUEL USED FOR GRAIN-DRYING

A: We have to make a difference between the price on pollution applied to grain drying and the data that we have received that goes further than that and that evaluates the impact of the price on pollution on all direct and indirect costs to farmers.

We have to be careful because the price on pollution is a very important tool to bring (Canada) as a whole toward a cleaner economy and to be able to reach our net-zero emissions target by 2050.

If we go in the direction of waiving the price on pollution on some specific things (as with present farm fuel exemptions) this is one thing. We have done that. But we have to be careful in the way that we want to support the farmers so that it’s sustainable.

I acknowledge, I know, that they had a terrible 2019. We have to support them one way or the other. Is waiving the price on pollution on grain-drying the best way to proceed? And actually (farm organizations) are not asking only for that. They are asking for much more than that. So, I have to find the right balance.

But the objective is definitely to support them. What’s the best way? I need to discuss this further. Having these new figures in my hand (about the carbon tax impact on farmers) for a couple of days, not even weeks, I have to discuss it further with my colleagues, the minister of environment for example, to make sure that the decision we make is the best for the sector and that we are using the public funds in a responsible way.

ON THE GOVERNMENT AND AGRICULTURE INDUSTRY’S BOLD TARGETS FOR INCREASING PRODUCTION AND EXPORTS, BUT THE REALITY OF INCREASING THREATS TO TRADE ACCESS, SHRINKING MARGINS AND THREATS TO PESTICIDE ACCESS

A: I think the biggest strength of the sector is the quality of our products, the robust inspection system we have. We stand for rules-based trade and for science-based decision-making.

I think it might take a little bit of time for our partners to realize the value of a partner like Canada. We cannot pretend that the size of our economy allows us to play a game that, anyway, Canadians wouldn’t want us to play. Canadians want to play by the rules. This is what we do.

The way we are being seen by different partners, it might take a bit of time, but I’m confident that they will soon see the value of a reliable partner as we are. That when they make a deal with Canada, we will be there. They will get the quality. They know what they have signed for, and they’ll get what they signed for.

ON EXPANDING THE NUMBER OF CANADA’S TRADING PARTNERS

A: When I talk about diversification, I talk in terms of markets, but I also think in terms of a wider range of products (and) value-added. This is another way to increase the demand and get more money for the products we have.

We keep investing in the sector, not only directly to farmers, but also to give them tools to have better seeds to be better adapted, more resilient to drought or floods….

This is one of the challenges for the minister of agriculture: to find the right balance between using our resources to support the farmers when they face a shock and to invest to make them more resilient and more productive and so they can thrive and they can grow.

ON HER ROLE IN REPRESENTING AND PROTECTING FARMERS WITHIN THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT

A: I am in with the whole team, we’re there to support the industry. We’re there to make sure all our colleagues understand the reality of the agriculture sector, the impacts that any decision might have on our sector.

ON ADDRESSING CONSUMER CONCERNS

A: Consumers are asking us to do always better. I think it’s important and it’s also my responsibility to bring the concerns of the consumers to the producers and say, “OK, how do we deal with this new reality?” How can we invest our resources best to make you, our producers, our processors, more agile and ready to respond to what the consumers need?

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