Selection is underway for a new chief commissioner and commissioner for the Canadian Grain Commission. From the description of the process, anyone who doesn’t demonstrate “Canada’s diversity” could have a big handicap in the competition for these positions.
A note from federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau says that back in 2016, the prime minister announced a new process for governor in council appointments.
“The new process is intended to be open, transparent, merit-based, and focused on identifying high-quality candidates who demonstrate Canada’s diversity,” says the note.
Patti Miller, the chief commissioner, is retiring this month. The other two commissioners are Doug Chorney and Lonny McKague. All have strong grain industry credentials. None would likely fit the Liberal government’s definition of diversity.
Thinking back over the history of commissioners for the grain commission, and assuming that diversity means ethnic diversity, I can’t think of anyone who met those criteria in the past.
Because of its history, the grain industry in Canada and particularly Western Canada is dominated by white people with a lineage that traces back to Europe and the United States. I attend grain industry meetings across Canada and I’m hard-pressed to think of any prominent farmer or senior grain sector employee who isn’t white.
There are certainly many researchers and scientists in the grain sector from a multitude of backgrounds, but these careers don’t have a lot to do with ensuring and protecting the quality of Canada’s grain for customers domestically and around the world.
With all the racial strife that has again erupted in the U.S. and with supportive rallies here in Canada, racial equality is an especially sensitive issue. Wrongs of the past cannot be undone, but they can be acknowledged and societies can and should do much better.
“Identifying high-quality candidates who demonstrate Canada’s diversity” is not unreasonable. But how much of the selection will be based on merit and how much will be based on diversity?
Let’s say a chief commissioner demonstrating diversity is ultimately appointed. Will the industry second guess his or her qualifications for the job?
To effectively lead the grain commission, there’s a lot to know and understand. It isn’t just the science of grain quality and the needs and wants of customers around the world. You need to know the important folks within the grain companies as well as the multitude of farm group leaders across the country.
The Canada Grain Act that lays out the mandate for the grain commission is in serious need of an overhaul. Every time changes are imminent, Parliament is dissolved and changes are delayed yet again. COVID-19 means no changes until after the next election.
Serious questions need to be addressed regarding the commission’s role in grain grading and how the organization is funded. It’s currently sitting on a huge surplus extracted from the pockets of farmers through the fees charged to grain export companies.
The years ahead will be challenging for whoever is chosen to lead. The learning curve could be impossibly steep for someone who doesn’t have a firm grasp on the issues and the various viewpoints coming into the job.
Ethnicity should not be a barrier to anyone in Canada, but neither should it be a replacement for merit. You can’t undo the injustices of the past by overcompensating.
Whoever is chosen to lead the grain commission, here’s hoping they’re qualified.
Kevin Hursh is an agricultural journalist, consultant and farmer. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.