PM to be tested on ag

When Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government was elected in 2015, agriculture wasn’t a hot issue.

However, in the coming months the Liberals will be called upon to make decisions on a confluence of issues that will have important impacts on agriculture.

One is the NAFTA talks, which are coming to a head. The future of supply management in Canada hangs in the balance.

Canada relinquished 2.25 percent of its dairy market quota to imports under the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with the European Union, which dairy farmers said represented an annual $150 million loss in revenues. However, the U.S. wants Canada’s supply management system completely dismantled. The Liberals will never allow that, but will more of Canada’s market be sacrificed?

Then there is the pipeline debate. Kinder Morgan says it will cease most spending on the crucial Trans Mountain Pipeline from Edmonton to Burnaby, B.C., unless it gets some agreements on clarity by May 31.

The NDP government in British Columbia wants to kill the pipeline, but pressure from Alberta and Ottawa forced it to ask for a reference from the B.C. Court of Appeal on whether it can limit the amount of oil transported through the province. That decision is expected to go to the Supreme Court, so May 31 is out of the question. The Trudeau government will have to do some hand holding with Kinder Morgan.

This very much matters to agriculture, since moving oil off railways and into pipelines will help free up the congested rail system, which has seen two major delays in getting grain to market in the last five years, and now we see that potash company Nutrien is laying off 1,300 workers, in part, because of rail transportation delays.

And the rocky road of Bill C-49, the omnibus-style transportation bill, looks to be developing potholes because Canadian National Railway is now saying it wants the slow-moving bill to pass without amendments. Yet, as columnist Kelsey Johnson reports on the opposite page, that may not be so easy. While nine of 19 of proposed Senate aments have been rejected, some may be modified, and possibly accepted. Regardless, it may mean a showdown with the Senate. Or CN. Or both.

All this will test Trudeau’s mettle in a way that he — and western Canadian farmers — could never anticipated when he ran for the job.

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