Predictions that divisive issues would be shelved for this session of Parliament went by the wayside Wednesday as the Conservative government pledged in its Throne Speech to press on with Prairie grain marketing reform.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s speech, delivered Wednesday in the House of Commons by Governor-General Michaelle Jean, stated the government “will continue to support Canada’s farmers by ensuring freedom of choice for grain marketing in Western Canada.”
“Marketing choice” is the Conservatives’ shorthand for ending the Canadian Wheat Board’s single marketing desk for Prairie barley and wheat. The minority government’s bid to deregulate Prairie barley marketing through legislation this summer hit the skids and, barring a confidence motion that might have stifled opposition, was unlikely to survive a vote in the Commons.
Some pundits have predicted that the Conservatives’ more contentious plans and policies, such as those on barley marketing, will enter legislative limbo in the upcoming Parliamentary session, so as to encourage co-operation between the Tories and opposition parties.
Among other points relevant to farmers in the Throne Speech, the government reiterated that it will be “strongly supporting our supply-managed sectors at home and in international negotiations.”
The Conservatives also cited the current global economic downturn as the basis for upcoming “hard decisions” to keep federal government spending under control.
“Grants, contributions and capital expenditures will be placed under the microscope of responsible spending,” the government warned in the Throne Speech. “Departments will have the funding they need to deliver essential programs and services, and no more.”
Looking further ahead in terms of federal spending, the government also promised to put constraints in place so that “any new shared-cost program in an area of exclusive provincial responsibility will require the consent of the majority of the provinces to proceed, and that non-participating provinces can opt out with compensation, provided that they implement compatible programs or initiatives.”
The government also pledged to “continue to invest in expanding gateways on our Atlantic and Pacific coasts, and in vital border corridors such as the Detroit River International Crossing, to ensure that Canadian goods and services can reach markets in Europe, Asia and the U.S.”
Continuing on the trade front, the Tories also pledged to work with provincial governments “to remove barriers to internal trade, investment and labour mobility by 2010.”
On governance, the Tories said they plan to “strengthen and improve the management of Canada’s federal agencies, boards, commissions and Crown corporations to achieve greater cost-effectiveness and accountability.”
The government also pledged to “continue to provide support for biofuels, wind and other energy alternatives,” and said it would set an objective to have 90 per cent of Canada’s electricity needs provided by “non-emitting” sources such as hydroelectricity, nuclear power, “clean coal” or wind power by 2020.
Continuing on the subject of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the government also said it will work with the provinces and other partners to “develop and implement a North America-wide cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gases and an effective international protocol for the post-2012 period.”
Farmers are expected to benefit from a cap-and-trade system, through the sale of carbon offset credits they generate from adopting practices such as zero tillage, to sequester excess carbon from the atmosphere in their soil.
The Tories also promised in Wednesday’s Throne Speech to bring in legislation to ban all bulk water transfers or exports from Canadian freshwater basins.
In the wake of last year’s food and product safety scares, such as pet foods spiked with melamine by overseas suppliers, as well as this summer’s listeriosis scare linked to a Maple Leaf deli meats plant in Toronto, the government also said it will “follow through with legislation providing better oversight of food, drug and consumer products (and) strengthen the power to recall products and increase penalties for violators.”
The government also reiterated it will move “quickly” to launch an independent investigation of this summer’s listeria outbreak and “act quickly upon its findings.”