Things to watch for in the PM’s mandate letter to Minister MacAulay

Lawrence MacAulay in his office in Ottawa (file photo)

The prime minister and his cabinet are in Charlottetown, PEI this week for their first retreat since the major cabinet shuffle in late July.

At some point before Parliament resumes in September, possibly this week, the PM is expected to publish a new round of mandate letters for each member of cabinet, including Lawrence MacAulay, who’s back in his old seat as Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food.

Here are four things to watch for in the prime minister’s marching orders – his public to-do list – for Minister MacAulay, as he begins his second stint overseeing Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada:

  • Fiscal constraint — The new president of the Treasury Board, Anita Anand, has reportedly asked cabinet to pass the hat around and find $15 billion in savings by October 2. That’s equal to around 3 per cent of 2023 budgeted spending of $497 billion. Will agriculture be affected? And if so, where? Given the government’s priorities, it would seem unlikely that environmental programs aimed at reducing emissions see cuts.
  • Sustainable Ag Strategy — Many stakeholders have been brought to the table for putting together the government’s Sustainable Agriculture Strategy (SAS), reflecting the diversity of Canadian ag. Questions have been raised about the value of this consultation process, and the mandate letter could potentially provide clues regarding the direction the government plans to take with what was originally dubbed its “green agricultural plan” in the 2021 mandate letter to former Ag Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau. The 30 per cent fertilizer emissions reduction policy has been moved under the SAS, and is just one area to watch for new developments.
  • Canada-U.S. relations — November 5, 2024 — the next presidential election south of the border is just over a year away. The renewal of the Canada-U.S.-Mexico trade agreement (CUSMA/USMCA) will follow shortly after, with a 2026 deadline. Given the extreme importance of the relationship with the U.S., it will be worth watching how the Trudeau government prepares to minimize risks to Canada, whether the scenario features a Democrat or Republican administration. Perhaps it’s time to bring back the ice cream photo op with key political players in U.S. agriculture?
  • The usuals — There are several longstanding issues that have been mentioned in multiple mandate letters to the ag minister, some going back to MacAulay’s first term as ag minister from 2015-2019:
    • Modernization of the Canada Grain Act — In Bibeau’s last mandate letter, the terminology regarding this issue that goes back decades was “continue to explore next steps.” The wording in the letter to MacAulay could be an indication of whether the government plans to finally bring legislation forward. In May, Bibeau said she would like to move ahead on modernizing the Canada Grain Act before the end of the calendar year. Will MacAulay keep with that timeline?
    • Business risk management — After tweaks were made to AgriStability last year, will MacAulay be told to continue making changes to BRM programs? Will there be continue focus on cross-compliance, integrating environmental targets into BRM?
    • Seed regulatory modernization — Another longstanding issue that needs resolving. What’s the long-term plan for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s involvement in plant breeding?
    • African swine fever preparedness and prevention — This remains a priority for the pork sector, and has been mentioned in previous mandate letters.
    • Grocery code of conduct — A file that’s been in the works for a long time, and while the original intent was to ensure fair treatment of suppliers, it could fit with a government that wants to appear that it’s helping address food cost inflation.
    • Ban export of live horses for slaughter — Assuming the PM’s office copies and pastes mandate letters before updating them, this is one point that has not been address from Bibeau’s last mandate letter, and was a Liberal election promise.

Several other ministers’ letters could also refer to issues that matter to farmers and the ag sector, including the following:

  • Transport Minister Pablo Rodriguez — Railways and grain shipper groups want the government to take action so grain can still be loaded in Vancouver when it’s raining. CN Rail, for example, paid for ads over the last few weeks where the railway specifically lists this issue in its own version of a mandate letter to the new transport minister. The railway said it had 20 grain trains backed up at one point last fall due to terminal delays on the West Coast. Any mention in Rodriguez’s letter of the extended interswitching measures that were included in this spring’s federal budget bill would also be of note.
  • Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade Minister Mary Ng — Two things to watch for in Ng’s letter include references to allowing the UK to join the CPTPP trade deal, given concerns about the UK not agreeing to real market access for Canadian beef and pork, and plans for continuing to invest in Indo-Pacific trade capacity to support agricultural exports to growing Asian markets.
  • Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan Jr. and Immigration Minister Marc Miller — These mandate letters could provide info on plans for addressing the ongoing labour shortages for businesses in agriculture and food. O’Regan will also be hands-on when it comes to organized labour disruptions that affect agricultural supply chains.
  • Environment Minister Stephen Guilbeault — Mainly, will there be any new info regarding the government’s plans regarding any of its environmental targets/commitments?
  • Health Minister Mark Holland — The government’s agenda to update how it reviews pesticides and the role of the Pesticide Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) was in the last mandate letter to Miller’s predecessor Jean-Yves Duclos. Will there be anything new on this front? Any references to antimicrobials and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency could also be significant.

This list is definitely not comprehensive, so feel free to send us what you’re hoping or expecting to see in the mandate letters. (My email address is [email protected].)

The cabinet retreat in Charlottetown is slated to run Monday through Wednesday. Parliament is currently scheduled to resume on September 18.

Related: Ag Minister MacAulay drives combine on Saskatchewan farm

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