Bibeau must act as agriculture's agent, says CFA president, as major policy decisions rest in other cabinet portfolios

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has unveiled a 39-person cabinet for the next parliament. There are some new faces, but plenty of familiar ones as well, including Marie-Claude Bibeau, who returns as Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food.

Mary Robinson, president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA), says she’s pleased with the news of Minister Bibeau’s return, as agriculture will be ready to hit the ground running.

“If you look at the portfolios of the new ministers, there’s going to be a bigger lag in reaching that point where we are actually productive,” says Robinson.

There’s a noticeable bent in the new cabinet, as the level and number of environment-related posts increases.

Many eyes are on Steven Guilbeault, new minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC). Guilbeault is a long-time environmentalist, and one of the founders of Equiterre, a Quebec-based environmentalist organization. He also headed up the Quebec chapter of Greenpeace for 10 years.

We already have seen the reach of the environment department into agriculture through carbon pricing, the fertilizer emission reduction target, and other climate policies, but there are other ministries, such as Health which is responsible for pesticide reviews, that have an impact on the industry.

Robinson says in light of this — now more than ever — the agriculture sector is going to need Bibeau to act as its agent in Ottawa.

“Minister Bibeau is going to have to try to bridge representing agriculture and make sure that we continue to toe the line that her priority is set on emission reduction,” she says. (Story continues below interview, as Robinson joined Shaun Haney on RealAg Radio to break down the portfolios that directly impact agriculture.)

Regarding Guilbeault’s appointment, Robinson says the “extreme environmental activism is alarming,” but CFA’s hope is it will cause us to have to focus on how agriculture is looking to take an active and impactful role in the fight against climate change.

“We’ve got to position ourselves so we’re seen as potential solutions-providers rather than a problem. So when we look at ECCC, we’re hoping that ECCC and AAFC can work together to make systematic changes that incentivize and drive sustainability efforts and emission reduction efforts in agriculture. It all comes back to collaboration that we have to see — more and more and more collaboration,” she emphasizes. “Because when we look at agriculture now, we span so many departments. We are becoming increasingly prominent ant in many different policy areas. If anything we — and Minister Bibeau — has a huge amount of work ahead of us.”

As well, Robinson notes that farm groups are going to have their work cut out for them as well.

“As the tide comes in on our sandcastle here, we’ve got to look around and realize that in agriculture most of us have more than 90 per cent in common, and it’s really five per cent that we are at odds about. I think it’s time we recognize we have to work together more and more, because we are seeing so many departments and so many agencies that are having impact on what we do,” Robinson says. “And we can’t each of us fight these fires individually. We’ve got to come together and really have the impact that we should have.”

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