The Standing Orders of the House of Commons give all standing committees the mandate to exercise certain general powers. Standing Order 108(2) gives committees the power “to study and report on all matters relating to the mandate, management and operation of the department or departments of government which are assigned to them.” For a more detailed overview of parliamentary committees, please consult the Compendium of House of Commons Procedure.
Generally speaking, the Standing Committee may examine any issue related to Canada’s agriculture and agri-food industry. It is a public forum where specific events or initiatives affecting the sector can be addressed.
More specifically, the Committee focuses on bills, expenditures and activities of the organizations that are part of the Agriculture and Agri-Food portfolio:
– Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC);
– The Canadian Grain Commission (CGC);
– The Farm Products Council of Canada (FPCC);
– Two Crown corporations:
The Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food also examines the activities of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) that fall under the responsibility of the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food,1 and the activities of other organizations that are independent of the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, such as the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA). An important part of the Committee’s mandate is to study and vote on the items for the various agencies in the Agriculture and Agri-Food portfolio.
 The CFIA was moved to the Health portfolio in October 2013, but the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food continues to be responsible for the CFIA’s non-food safety agricultural activities.
The parliamentary reforms implemented in the early 1980s (resulting from the Lefebvre Committee in 1982-1983 and the McGrath Committee in 1984-1985) gave standing committees the power to look into any matter of interest in their respective fields. As matters of interest in agriculture are dictated by natural phenomena and major developments in politics and science, occasionally issues must be re-examined. The history of the Standing Committee on Agriculture, whose name was changed to the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food in 1993, has been marked by a number of major developments underlying the issues considered by the Committee:
1. The federal program review and reform (the Nielsen Task Force) that led to the 1986 National Agriculture Strategy and, four years later, to the new vision statement for Canada’s agri-food industry entitled Growing Together. The statement’s four pillars – awareness of market signals, greater self-reliance, regional diversity and environmental sustainability – are still issues of crucial importance today.
2. Trade negotiations, such as the Canada-United States Free Trade Agreement in the late 1980s and the Uruguay Round, in the mid-1990s, had unprecedented scope and brought major changes to agriculture.
3. The development and gradual implementation of the new Agricultural Policy Framework, early in the new millennium, made the Standing Committee a focal point for farmers wanting parliamentarians to hear about their concerns and to understand their vision of Canadian agriculture.
4. The single case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) found in Alberta in 2003 and its impact on the livestock industry gave rise to broad-based upstream and downstream reforms across the entire beef production chain.
5. The Doha Round, in the early years of the new millennium, the emergence of new agricultural exporting powers, and the rise of commodity prices in 2007-2008 revived the debate on agricultural trade and Canada’s competitiveness in the global agricultural marketplace.
6. The multiplication of large outbreaks of food borne disease in developed countries, and increased interest from consumers on how and where food is produced, have raised questions on how the food production system might adapt to meet consumers’ demands abroad and domestically.
Over the years, the Committee’s studies have covered a wide range of topics and events. The following topics have regularly returned to the Committee’s agenda and have been the subject of more than one report:
– the response to the impact of natural disasters on agriculture, such as two severe droughts in 1987 and 1988, which brought back memories of the “dust bowls” of the 1930s;
– the use of biotechnology in farm production and the public debate about genetically modified food;
– the elimination of subsidies and the development and examination of agricultural safety net programs, now referred to as risk management programs;
– developments in supply management in the structured marketing context; and
– the successive versions of the Agricultural Policy Framework, Growing Forward and Growing Forward 2.
Other studies have been in response to circumstances occurring in Canada’s agricultural and agri-food sector, specifically:
– the financial situation of meatpackers and the government assistance they received following the discovery of BSE, as well as the relationship between the subsidies received and beef prices: Financial Analysis Relative to Meat Packing Companies in the Context of the BSE Crisis of 2003, 2005;
– the avian influenza outbreak in British Columbia in 2004, which represented what might happen at the national level, and what was happening throughout the world to a certain extent: From a Management Crisis, to Becoming Better Crisis Managers: The 2004 Avian Influenza Outbreak in British Columbia, 2005;
– the consequences of volatile input costs and the collapse of beef and pork producers’ revenues: Study on High Input Costs Facing Canadian Farmers, 2008, and Study on the Collapse of the Beef and Pork Sector Revenues, 2007;
– the “Product of Canada” claim and the difficulties in providing accurate and meaningful labelling in a complex food production system: “Product of Canada” claims: Truth and transparency are necessary, 2008;
– the listeriosis crisis that cost the lives of 22 Canadians in 2008, which showed the increased complexity of food safety issues: Beyond the Listeriosis Crisis: Strengthening the Food Safety System, 2009; and
– the need to attract young farmers in the context of an aging farming population: Young Farmers: The Future of Agriculture, 2010.
© 2018 Eva Nassif. All rights reserved.