NFU: Unwarranted changes to Canada Grain Act must be removed

The following op-ed piece was provided by Stewart Wells, National Farmers Union second vice president.

OPINION – Bill C-4, the Canada–United States–Mexico Agreement (CUSMA) Implementation Act, is being rushed through Parliament so fast that major discrepancies between the Act and the CUSMA agreement have been overlooked by witnesses and Committee members. Bill C-4 amends certain existing laws to bring them into conformity with Canada’s obligations under the trade agreement. However, its amendments to the Canada Grain Act go beyond what is required, making substantive changes to Canada’s grain quality control system without proper democratic scrutiny. The Canada Grain Act governs the Canadian Grain Commission (CGC) which is the institution that safeguards both the quality of Canada’s grain system and the interests of farmers within the grain trade.
“As it stands, Bill C-4 is a Trojan Horse designed to make it easier for grain companies to pay farmers less for their grain. Inserting several unnecessary clauses and fast-tracking it through the House just weeks before planned consultations on revisions to the Canada Grain Act is an end-run around the public process that side-lines farmers and is contrary to the government’s claimed commitment to transparency,” NFU second vice president Stewart Wells said. “We’re asking the Minister to do the right thing and correct these mistakes before the final vote.”

CUSMA has four short clauses about grain. Only the first two – providing grades to wheat grown in the USA according to the same quality standards and handling it as if it were Canadian-grown wheat — require amendments to the Canada Grain Act. However, Bill C-4 amends the Canada Grain Act so that all grains, namely  barley, beans, buckwheat, canola, chick peas, corn, fababeans, flaxseed, lentils, mixed grain, mustard seed, oats, peas, rapeseed, rye, safflower seed, soybeans, sunflower seed, and triticale – in addition to wheat – grown in the USA become equivalent to Canadian-grown upon delivery into Canada’s grain handling system.

Other amendments not related to CUSMA weaken CGC authority to decide what constitutes contaminated or adulterated grain; make the issuance of official export certificates optional; enable regulations that will allow inspectors to confer Canadian grades on grain grown outside of Canada and the USA; and enable the CGC to incorporate by reference any document, regardless of its source, either as it exists on a particular date or as it is amended from time to time.

“These unrelated and unnecessary amendments are not in farmers’ interests,” said Colonsay, SK area farmer Terry Boehm. “The CGC is a critical institution that has been the farmers’ watchdog for over a century, acting as a counterweight to the concentrated power of the railways and grain companies. The Grain Act amendments in Bill C-4 appear to be included in the manner of an omnibus bill where unpopular measures are packaged together and denied proper democratic scrutiny.”

The Bill C-4 amendments to the Canada Grain Act entrench the ability of grain companies to ship US-originated grain through Canadian terminal elevators and export it as if it was Canadian. This ensures grain companies will increase their ability to use US-grown grain to weaken prices paid to Canadian farmers by purchasing lower-priced American grain grown under US Farm Bill subsidies.

“CUSMA locks Canadian grain and oilseed producers into an uncompetitive price situation,” said Terry Byrne, Essex, ON area farmer and NFU Ontario Regional Council member. “We’re not afraid to compete head to head with US producers and have done so, but we cannot compete with the US Treasury.”

“Bill C-4 weakens the CGC’s ability to deal with problems resulting from admixture of US-grown grain in Canadian shipments, such as dockage contaminated by herbicide-tolerant noxious weed seeds that are not found in Canada. Bill C-4 permits grain companies to refuse varieties that are not registered in Canada, it does not require them to reject them, which creates huge risks to the integrity of our product,” said Hanley, SK area farmer Cam Goff. “With unfettered access to our grain handling system for all crop types, quality and contamination problems are more likely to occur and will be much more difficult to address – and Canadian farmers will be the ones paying the cost.”

Bill C-4 was introduced into Parliament on January 29, 2020, received Second Reading and was referred to Committee on February 6, and on February 27 the Standing Committee on International Trade (CIIT) recommended it be passed without amendment.