I’m John Schmeiser, CEO for the Western Equipment Dealers Association. Welcome to this edition of Legislative Landscape. For this podcast, I intend to share some updates on what is happening in Ottawa and point out some of our government affairs activities for 2021.
Although we are starting to see the rollout of the Coronavirus vaccines, the perception of most Canadians is that this is happening way too slow. The federal government has promised that all Canadians who want a vaccine will have access to one by the end of September. With each passing week, it seems we are seeing another delay in vaccine shipments – so it is becoming more and more difficult for the government to hit that target. Unless this drastically improves within the next 60 days, we anticipate that patience of most Canadians will run out and support for Justin Trudeau’s government will continue to slide.
The good news is that it appears that we have hit the peak of new cases in this second wave. Daily new case numbers are dropping in each province, and the respective provincial governments has slowly started to ease some lockdown or response measures. That is a good sign, but at the same time the federal government is increasing border crossing measures and that is concerning. Our industry has experienced inventory and parts delays at border crossings in the past, and it affected our supply chain. It’s challenges like this that leave most of us yearning for a return to normal business operating conditions.
I noted with interest that several Liberal MPs were posting social media updates of them securing their party’s nomination for the next election, and some even had pictures of themselves out campaigning and knocking on doors. There was a cabinet shuffle in January, and minor distractions like the behavior of the former Governor General are out of the way. All of this is leading to a lot of speculation that the Trudeau government will call a spring election. In my opinion that is a very risky strategy right now. Like I mentioned, Canadians appear to be getting angrier about the slow roll out of vaccines, and in a recent Angus Reid poll, the number of Canadians saying the Liberals were doing a poor job procuring vaccines has doubled since December. Unless the government can get a lot of good news out there and quickly, it may be political suicide for them to call an election now.
The House of Commons has reconvened, but all of the focus continues to be on the COVID response and vaccine rollout. We still do not have a budget, the only G7 country to not present a budget since the pandemic hit the world. In fact, it has been two years since the last budget was tabled. It is no surprise that the spending impact of pandemic support programs is going to be with us for some time, however it is reassuring that the government has started pre-budget consultations with leads to our belief that their intention may be to tie an election to their budget announcement.
With the transition to the Biden administration in the U.S. there is no doubt this will have an impact on whether a Canadian federal election is called. Although some in the Canadian government may have viewed the new Biden administration as an opportunity for a fresh start, Biden’s actions that impact Canada have been detrimental. One of Biden’s first executive orders was to cancel the permit for the Keystone pipeline, which many in the oil and gas industry viewed as a kick in the teeth. Biden has taken a strong position on a Buy American Policy and is revisiting Country of Origin labelling. Both approaches would be harmful to Canada. I am sure that there were a lot of Canadians disappointed in the Trudeau government’s response to the cancellation of Keystone, and the oil and gas industry expected better.
So, when we address our legislative priorities for this coming year, perhaps the COVID pandemic has increased awareness of the need for better rural broadband. This has and will continue to be a priority for us. With the need for many Canadians working from or completing school from home, the need for better internet access has never been higher. This has been a huge issue for equipment dealers and our customers, as we have been unable to use the full capability of remote diagnostics. The federal government has announced a Connecting Canadians Program which is designed to provide better high-speed internet access in rural areas, but details on how this would roll out or be accomplished have been non-existent.
Secondly, the Right to Repair issue continues to be top of mind for us. There continues to be lots of activity in numerous U.S. states, and our concern is how much traction is this issue getting in Canada. We have tried our best to stay ahead of it by having meetings with Farm groups across Canada, meetings with provincial Ag ministers and hosting Right to Repair demonstrations, so we can show the industry the steps that dealers and manufacturers have taken to appease the Right to Repair advocates concerns. We are seeing the true intentions of Right to Repair advocates as their desire goes beyond repair to modify, and in a lot of cases, they want the law to give them the right to illegally modify farm equipment. We think that this is just wrong, and we are pleased advise that we are getting a favorable response on this concern from our provincial governments.
Also related to illegal modification, is our third priority. The issue is the number of illegal emissions tampering devices that are in Canada and how prevalent their use is on tractors and combines. It is illegal for a manufacturer, dealer, distributor, or importer to alter or tamper with an emissions device. But there is no reference in Canadian law where it is illegal to sell these devices. So we have 3rd party vendors selling these devices and they are creating a lot of downstream problems for dealers and manufacturers. So, one of our legislative priorities for this year is to have the federal regulations updated to remove this loophole. We have submitted suggested language that would accomplish this, and it is before the federal government for consideration. We expect to hear an answer back on this later this year.
A fourth priority for us is the interconnectivity issue. This refers to the ability of two products or implements, manufactured by different manufacturers, to be able to connect and talk to each other. Think of a Honey Bee or MacDon header connected to a combine, or a Bourgault of SeedHawk air drill connected to a tractor. This issue arose last summer when we noted that he new USMCA didn’t clearly state that this connectivity could legally continue. Even more frustrating, the U.S. language on the provision is clearly stated – that the decades old industry standard of such connectively shall continue as it is in the best interests of the industry. We are not sure how our federal government missed this during the negotiations on the USMCA, but here we are now and we have to get this fixed. Working with the Agricultural Manufacturers of Canada and some of their key members, we have drafted the necessary language change and put together an industry impact study. All of this was submitted to the federal ministry of innovation, science and economic development. We also had the issue raised during question period in the House of Commons. We believe we have covered all bases on this and are hopeful that the government will address this in an expedient manner.
That is a quick overview of the current state of affairs and our legislative priorities. As a core part of what we do, WEDA will continue its advocacy efforts to ensure our dealer’s interests are heard.
Should you have any questions on these topic or any other government affairs issues, please do not hesitate to contact us.
Podcast By John Schmeiser
JOHN SCHMEISER is the CEO of the Western Equipment Dealers Association (WEDA). First established in Canada in 1927, WEDA represents over 2200 farm, construction, and outdoor power equipment dealers in both Canada and the U.S.