Reporter’s Notebook: Where’s our federal ag minister?

From taxation to transportation, there’s a lack of understanding of agriculture showing

Some days, you really have to wonder where our federal ag minister is at.

Last year, the federal Liberals attempted to roll out tax reforms that raised the hackles of many in the ag sector. The proposed changes to capital gains exemptions seemed likely to threaten many producers’ abilities to pass the operation to their successors. Other revisions could have threatened a producer’s ability to save for retirement. And, of course, the consultation period coincided with harvest.

There were many more implications for farmers. But the tax blooper seems like it was borne of ignorance more than anything. It just seemed like the Liberals knew very little about farming.

For example, after the feds had backed down on many of their proposals, they announced they would cut the small business tax rate to nine per cent, from 10.5 per cent, over the next couple of years. An excerpt from a background document used an example of a farm, stating that “once the small business tax reductions are fully implemented, the business will save an additional $750 which could be used to help pay for new farm equipment.”

Where exactly was Lawrence MacAulay in all of this? On October 5th he was quoted by CBC News’ PEI bureau as defending the proposed tax changes, and stating they’d had an “extended” consultation period. He also voted against an opposition motion to extend the consultation period into January, CBC reported. He said he was working with Bill Morneau, the federal finance minister, to make sure the new bill wouldn’t sideline succession planning.

Well, why didn’t he do that before the proposals were made public? He sure would have saved his colleagues a lot of ridicule from the ag sector.

If this had been the federal government’s only agricultural faux pas, one could chalk it up to humans being humans and making mistakes. But as I write this, on the first day of spring, western Canadian farmers and shippers have suffered through poor rail service for months.

Rail service

Warren Sekulic, who farms in northern Alberta, told the House of Commons ag committee that he was eight months behind on delivering many of his contracts. Ian Boxall, who farms in northeast Saskatchewan, said he was still waiting to deliver on three-month-old contracts. Lack of rail service by CN was the hold up, Boxall said.

Boxall’s local elevator is one of only four that connect to both CP and CN, so the elevator was able to take some of his grain. Not the entire contracted amount, but just enough so he had the money he needed at the time, he said.

We did have extended interswitching provisions as part of Bill C-30. Shippers have said that just having the ability to go with another railway often improves service. But the Liberals let that Bill sunset last year, focusing on getting their own Bill C-49, the Transportation Modernization Act, passed. It sounds like the Senate may send it back, based on reporting from iPolitics’ Kelsey Johnson.

It’s probably worth the time to get that Bill right (or closer to right). But why the Liberals would have killed Bill C-30 before this new legislation came through is beyond me. Farm groups in Saskatchewan were asking the feds to extend Bill C-30 last spring, as they were worried that the new legislation might get tied up during the grain shipping season, the Western Producer reported.

And Liberal, NDP and Conservative members of the Transport Committee shared those concerns, said Conservative transport critic Kelly Block. That is according to reporting by Emmett Shortt of WestCentral Online.

You can argue that transportation isn’t really in MacAulay’s wheel house either. It’s under Marc Garneau’s purview. But a big part of MacAulay’s job is, or should be, to work with his cabinet colleagues on issues that affect the ag sector.

The Liberal government doesn’t understand the business of farming. Nor do they understand the time-sensitive, seasonal nature of the industry. But most Canadians don’t, either.

That’s why we need an ag minister who understands, or at least is willing to learn, about this complex industry. And that minister must have influence and know how to use it with his or her cabinet colleagues. Otherwise the blooper reel will just keep rolling.

About the author

Field Editor

Lisa Guenther

Lisa Guenther is field editor for Grainews based at Livelong, Sask. You can follow her on Twitter @LtoG.



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