Ag committee resumes review of business risk management

Members of Parliament sitting on the committee studying agricultural and agri-food issues will have no shortage of topics to explore in the coming weeks.

After months of not sitting, there is plenty of work to be done.

The first meeting of the current parliamentary session was held Oct. 8.

The last time the committee held a meaningful meeting was in July, when MPs were concluding the work they had done studying business risk management programs (BRM).

Between February and July, over the course of seven meetings, members of the committee heard testimony from about 45 stakeholders about BRMs.

The work allowed law makers to hear directly, in a public forum, from just about every sector involved with the programs.

Work of the committee led to the release of data showing the majority of farmers have minimal amounts available in their AgriInvest accounts (one of the contentious BRM programs), which ran counter to messaging from the federal government.

In June, MPs on the committee wrote a letter to Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau highlighting some of their findings about BRMs, in hopes it would help inform her during now-delayed discussions with the provinces on reforming the support programs.

This was valuable because it involved members of several different political parties agreeing on where, and how, the programs can be improved.

The letter to Bibeau was supposed to be followed by a fuller report from members highlighting findings of the BRM study, but the end of the parliamentary session prevented that from happening.

Committee members voted in their first meeting back to reinstate that work, and there is now expectation a full report can be given to Bibeau’s office ahead of her meetings with provincial counterparts in November.

Meetings in May and June featured a study into the impacts COVID-19 was having on the sector.

This allowed stakeholders to give updates on how the pandemic was impacting their businesses. It also allowed lawmakers to hear directly which COVID-19 support measures were and were not working.

It was valuable work being done by politicians representing four different parties.

Despite some partisan gamesmanship, the committee traditionally does a good job, particularly relative to the work of some other committees, in going about its work in a pragmatic and fair-minded way.

Hopefully that will continue in the newest iteration of the committee after it begins Oct. 8.

There will be differences from previous iterations of the committee.

Most notably, long-time Conservative Party of Canada agriculture critic John Barlow won’t be there.

Barlow’s strong understanding of the issues and ability to gather information from witnesses was a huge asset to the committee. It will be interesting to see how noticeable his absence is.

Lianne Rood, the rookie MP who replaced Barlow as ag critic, will be tasked with filling those big shoes. While there is no doubt Rood’s background demonstrates a knowledge of the file, she never really stood out during previous meetings of the committee, but she wasn’t bad, either.

She’ll have a chance to shine in this role, particularly because of a lack of experience among her party mates on the committee.

Beauce MP Richard Lehoux has proven competent in previous sessions, particularly in representing the views of the dairy industry, but Dave Epp (Chatham-Kent-Leamington) and Warren Steinley (Regina-Lewvan) will be sitting on the ag committee for the first time.

They do have farming backgrounds, which will prove helpful. I don’t know much about Epp, but during his stint as an MLA in Saskatchewan’s legislature, Steinley was an enthusiastic if ineffective lawmaker.

The Liberal members will continue to rely on the likes of Glengarry-Prescott-Russell MP Francis Drouin to do their heavy lifting.

He’ll be backed by a group of MPs with experience on the committee, like Miramachi-Grand Lake MP Pat Finnigan, who was named the committee chair once again.

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