Breaking the BRM stalemate, a "significant" carbon tax cost, and celebrating Canada's Agriculture Day: an interview with Agriculture Minister Bibeau

One of the silver linings of COVID-19 is that it has shone a spotlight on Canadian farms and food production, says the federal agriculture minister.

Marie-Claude Bibeau joined Shaun Haney for Canada’s Agriculture Day to highlight the event and discuss several key agriculture policy files. Bibeau also delivered the opening remarks at Agriculture More Than Ever’s virtual celebration on February 23.

“I’m afraid that Canadians take their food and our farmers a bit too much for granted. If COVID has brought us one good thing, it’s probably to realize how important they are, how important their work is, and that it’s good to be more supportive, to buy local, and be thankful,” she says, in the interview below.

On Friday, in the lead-up to the event, Bibeau joined Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for a pair of virtual farm tours. The prime minister and agriculture minister visited with Kelly Smith-Fraser, owner of Nuhaven Cattle Company near Pine Lake, Alberta and Sylvain Terrault, president and general manager of Hydroserre Mirabel, a greenhouse business that produces cucumbers and peppers in Sainte-Clotilde-de-Châteauguay, Quebec.

Here’s are some of the noteworthy points and quotes from the minister’s conversation:

On the farm tours with Prime Minister Trudeau

“He’s very open to the reality of our regions, people living in rural areas, and he has a good ear when I come to him with my special requests for farmers,” says Bibeau.

Business risk management (BRM) reform

“I’m still waiting for a formal response from my Prairie colleagues [regarding the federal AgriStability proposal]. A few days ago I had individual conversations with the three of them… Maybe a couple of weeks more, but then I’ll find a way to make it happen with or without. But I’m confident we’ll find a way to have everybody in.”

Canada Grain Act review

Consultations wrap up at the end of April, after which Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada will analyze the feedback and draft legislation to implement changes to the act and the role of the Canadian Grain Commission.

“The idea is to be able to draft a bill proposal, and then go through the Parliamentary process,” she says. “I will say candidly I have no conceived idea of what direction the CGC should take…I’m looking at it open-minded and once this consultation is concluded, we will be able to move step by step through the legislative process.” She also notes she is hopeful it will receive bi-partisan support in the minority government.

Additional carbon tax exemptions

The federal cabinet’s special advisor for the Prairies, Jim Carr, told RealAgriculture earlier this month that he believes the government should revisit its decision to not exempt natural gas and propane used on farms from the carbon tax. Minister Bibeau, who previously described the cost of carbon tax on grain drying as not “significant,” says she believes the financial burden on farmers needs to be reduced, while supporting reduced emissions.

“We recognize with the increase [in the price of carbon] from $20 to $170 per tonne by 2030, it will become significant. We recognize our farmers are often linked to international prices, so they don’t have so much flexibility to pass on the extra costs. We have to find the right balance to make sure the industry has the incentive to pivot to more energy efficient and environmentally-friendly practices, but at the same time, allowing them to do the transition in a reasonable and affordable way.”

When can we expect details on the carbon offset program?

“It’s still early in the process. I’m still receiving some environmental classes around this issue. I will be pleased to come back to you later when the process has progressed a bit more,” she says, noting “the environment ministry is leading, but the agriculture department is very much involved.”

Bibeau says this program will likely not recognize practices implemented in the past that reduced emissions.

“I would say retroactive programs are really not on the table, but at the same time we are looking at all the opportunities, all the options.”

Check out the interview above to hear the entire discussion with Minister Bibeau.

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