Surplus issue underscores need to update the Canadian Grain Commission, says Grain Growers president

Several provincial and national farm groups say they are disappointed with the Canadian Grain Commission’s plan for dealing with its $130 million surplus, and that it underscores the need to update the federal agency’s mandate.

The surplus has accumulated through user fees charged for grain inspection and other services — costs that were ultimately passed along to farmers.

After holding consultations last year, the Grain Commission announced a framework last week that will see $40 million go into a operating reserve fund, with the other $90 million to be distributed via a “Surplus Investment Framework.”

The CGC says it has identified three priorities areas for the $90 million: safeguards for producers, grain quality assurance, and science and innovation. The first expenditure under the framework — also announced last week — will see $4 million invested in the CGC’s Harvest Sample Program to provide farmers who submit wheat samples with falling number and DON (deoxynivalenol) test results.

Related: Grain Commission to invest $4 million from user fee surplus in Harvest Sample Program

Grain Growers of Canada (whose membership include 16 provincial and national commodity groups), the Alberta Wheat Commission, and Western Canadian Wheat Growers are among the groups that are not happy with the CGC’s plan.

“Our position was we should have seen a reduction in user fees,” says Grain Growers president Jeff Nielsen, in the interview below. “We believe the majority of submissions were asking for that, and yet now we’re looking at a different procedure, and it’s really unclear where we’re going with it.”

To stem the accumulation of the surplus, the CGC reduced its user fees on August 1, 2017 and again on April 1, 2018. Despite requests from Grain Growers and other groups, another reduction in fees isn’t being considered, according to commission.

The CGC’s chief commissioner, Patti Miller, assistant chief commissioner Doug Chorney, and commissioner Lonny McKague attended the Grain Growers’ annual summer meeting in Guelph last week to discuss their plan for the user fee surplus.

“They’re following their mandate, and they believe in their mandate that there isn’t the provision to allow a reduction in user fees (to draw down the surplus),” says Nielsen.

Alberta Wheat and Alberta Barley have said they believe the CGC shouldn’t act as both a regulator and a service provider — they would like to see the inspection services opened up to competition from private companies.

There have been several unsuccessful attempts to update the Canada Grain Act, with the most recent — Bill C-48 — dying on the Order Table when the 2015 election was called. C-48 included an update and clarification of the CGC’s mandate.

Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay also referred to updating the Act as a priority in his mandate letter to the CGC in 2016.

With the 2019 federal election just over a year away, Nielsen says Grain Growers will be lobbying the federal government to act on the Grain Commission file when Parliament resumes this fall.

“For many years there has been talk about re-opening the Canada Grain Act, reforming it and rebuilding it to where we should be. It’s been tweaked a few times, but it’s been a long time since the Act has been renewed, and it’s growing more and more important,” he says.

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