She dealt with multiple challenges, an ag policy consultant said
By Diego Flammini
With Marie-Claude Bibeau moved from the agriculture file to national revenue in Wednesday’s cabinet shuffle, it’s time to look back at her four years as minister of agriculture.
She had to navigate multiple challenges during her tenure, and those started almost right away, says Tyler McCann, managing director of the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute.
In 2019, “she was appointed days before China banned Canadian exports of canola,” he told Farms.com. “I think that kind of set a bit of a tone where, as a minister, she’s trying to set her own agenda around things like diversity and sustainability. But over her time in office, there were some forces outside of her control that squeezed that agenda.”
These include providing dairy farmers with proper compensation following market access concessions made during CUSMA, CPTPP and CETA negotiations; Or reassuring the U.S. that P.E.I. potatoes pose no risk of spreading potato wart.
Bibeau also had a different approach to the job.
While other ag ministers acted on behalf of the industry, Minister Bibeau was more of a messenger between the sector and government, McCann said.
“In the past, agriculture ministers are usually seen as advocates for agriculture,” he said. “I think she wore a bit of a different hat and was more of a liaison between the industry and a government that had a broader agenda.”
One area Bibeau succeeded at in her four years as ag minister, McCann says, is her relationships with the provincial governments.
This is evident through the signing of the Sustainable Canadian Agricultural Partnership.
“That agreement has $500 million in new investment, when we’ve seen, effectively, spending remain consistent over the last few agreements,” McCann said. “Political differences around the table made progress hard at times, but she went out and worked hard to get that deal.”
Other topics Bibeau handled well are defending supply management and recognizing that agriculture goes beyond the farm gate, and other supports for farmers.
“She pushed the department to do things around food loss and waste,” McCann said. “And I know personal priorities of hers were diversity in the sector and mental health in the sector. And she played an important role in those.”
On the other hand, some items could’ve been handled better.
Innovation is one, McCann said.
“It’s a broad topic where she delivered the messages about supporting innovation, but the actions didn’t follow through the way you would’ve liked them to,” he said, citing Canadian Food Inspection Agency decisions about gene editing and the Pest Management Regulatory Agency and crop protection products. “There’s been shift in an activist agenda and wondering what role science is playing in these decisions.”
In total, Prime Minister Trudeau made 30 changes in Wednesday’s cabinet shuffle.
This included naming Lawrence MacAulay, Minister Bibeau’s predecessor, as her successor in the agriculture file.
Minister MacAulay will likely continue Minister Bibeau’s work, but in a different manner, McCann said.
“I think he’ll take it in a way that slows things down and focuses on growing consensus, compared to Minister Bibeau, who I think pushed harder and faster,” he said.
Multiple federal ministries that affect agriculture received new ministers.
These include health, transportation and others.
Farms.com will connect with McCann next week to break down what ag items the new ministers may be faced with.