Eichler, Bezan disagree with feds' canola plans

Manitoba PC Hydro critic Ralph Eichler (l) and leader Brian Pallister speak about NDP hiring policies and contracting for Hydro projects during a press conference in Winnipeg, Man. Monday May 26, 2014. Brian Donogh/Winnipeg Sun/QMI Agency)

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Both Selkirk-Interlake-Eastman MP James Bezan and provincial agriculture minister and Lakeside MLA Ralph Eichler want the federal government to do more to help struggling canola farmers.

On May 1, the federal government announced plans to aid the country’s canola growers, who have been hit hard by China’s ban of Canadian canola products. China’s refusal to import Canadian canola may have stemmed from the detention of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver on the request of American authorities last December. China has also suspended the exporting license of Canadian pork producer Olymel for what the Chinese are claiming to be insufficient labelling.

Complicating matters is the fact Canada has had no ambassador to China since the resignation of John McCallum on the request of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in January.

Canada exports approximately $11 billion of canola products each year, with China importing a significant portion.

Federal minister of agriculture and agri-food Marie-Claude Bibeau and minister of international trade diversification Jim Carr both announced in Ottawa that the Advance Payments Program will be amended to raise loan limits from $400,000 to $1 million for canola growers, with $500,000 to be interest-free. In addition, Carr will lead a trade delegation to Japan and South Korea next month.

Bezan told The Stonewall Argus and Teulon Times that while he approves of the increased amount of loans for canola growers, the actions made by Ottawa were “too little, too late.”

“I always remind people that cash advances are just taking on more debt and we still have to find a place to sell our canola,” he said. “We’ve been suggesting for quite some time that there should be a trade delegation, or at least a special envoy, to China to deal with this.” Bezan also repeated Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer’s calls for the government to file a complaint against China at the World Trade Organization. Other retaliatory actions the federal government should pursue, according to Bezan, is to pull out of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and to exclude Huawei from accessing Canada’s 5G telecommunications network.

Eichler told the Argus that he is “frustrated” by the dispute and also called for the government to send a trade delegation to China. With farmers’ 2018 canola crop not lasting much longer in their bins and their livelihoods being threatened, he explained that increased advances towards canola growers is not a cure-all solution.

“The most important thing we can provide for our farm families is trade and we need them to focus on trade,” he said. “I’m happy the farmers have access to interest-free money for a while but that’s not going to solve their problem. The problem is they need to be able to market their product. They don’t need debt, they need solutions.”

Eichler called Carr’s attempt to find more buyers for canola “a bold move” but he worries that with the federal election coming up, the federal government’s focus will be shifted elsewhere. He said the time is now to make a deal with China.

“I call on them to do this today. Not tomorrow, but today,” Eichler said.

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