Conservatives want Friday’s AG committee meeting to be public

Conservative agriculture critic Luc Berthold says an upcoming meeting of the House agriculture committee where MPs will decide whether to conduct an emergency study on Canada’s escalating canola trade dispute with China should be held in public.

“The Chinese government has begun an unprecedented trade war, throwing our producers into a crisis.  They need answers and we need answers,” Berthold wrote in a letter to the committee chair, Liberal MP Pat Finnigan, on Wednesday.

“Organizing an in-camera secret closed-door meeting defeats the purpose of providing answers and letting producers know that as parliamentarians, we are seized with this issue,” the letter reads.

Berthold is the committee’s vice-chair. He told Finnigan on Wednesday he wants Friday’s meeting televised. An official notice for the meeting posted Tuesday stated MPs would meet in camera. The meeting is scheduled for two hours, starting at 11 a.m. EST.

On Monday, Berthold, Conservative MPs Earl Dreeshen and Bev Shipley, and NDP agriculture critic Alistair MacGregor asked for the committee to be recalled after the canola industry said Thursday it had been shut out of it’s largest market. Chinese importers, the Canola Council of Canada said in release, were no longer buying canola seed.

The Chinese government has also revoked the canola export permits of two major Canadian grain companies: Richardson International Ltd. and Glencore Canada’s Viterra. Beijing has said the actions are necessary because of concerns about pests – a position Canadian officials have publicly disputed and said is not science-based.

Additional testing by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) on Richardson shipments have not found any evidence of pests. Technical discussions between the two countries are ongoing.

Earlier Friday, Liberal MP Francis Drouin, who sits on the House agriculture committee, told iPolitics he was unaware the meeting was set to be held in camera.

He said it is not uncommon for a committee to meet behind closed doors when the matter at hand touches on committee business, including potential witnesses.

Opposition MPs have asked for testimony from Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, International Trade Minister Jim Carr, as well as officials from Agriculture Canada, Global Affairs Canada, the CFIA, and the canola industry.

Bibeau and Carr are scheduled to appear in front of the House international trade committee on Tuesday after that committee also decided on March 18 to hold two emergency meetings on the canola dispute. Bibeau’s office confirmed her trade committee appearance to iPolitics on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters this week he was looking at sending a delegation of “high-level” officials to China, a delegation that – if approved – could include Bibeau.

Forty per cent of Canada’s canola exports go to China, a market that in 2018 was valued at $2.7 billion.