OTTAWA — As Ottawa and the provinces move toward a new agricultural policy framework, the question of how much money the five-year deal will contain looms large.
Conservative agriculture critic David Anderson noted that three pillars were added after the ministerial meeting in Calgary last July, but there has been no indication of whether any more money will be offered to pay for them.
“The government has refused to make any kind of commitment at all,” he said in an interview after addressing the Canadian Federation of Agriculture’s annual meeting.
The current $3 billion agreement, funded 60 percent by Ottawa and 40 percent by the provinces, expires March 31, 2018, and ministers are expected to sign the new deal in Newfoundland and Labrador this summer.
However, farmers across Canada have been lobbying to improve business risk management programs, AgriStability in particular, and that would take more money.
Adding climate change and environment, public trust and value-added and food processing to the framework also raises questions about whether the funding envelope will be larger.
Several governments, including Ottawa and Saskatchewan, are already dealing with large deficits and signalling tough budgets.
Federal Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay told the CFA meeting that negotiations continue, but he won’t say anything publicly “until we get something together.”
He noted that participation in AgriStability has dropped from about 60 percent of eligible participants to 30 percent.
“That is just not working,” he said. “It’s a 60-40 formula, we’re attempting to put it together and hopefully we will be able to do so.”
Alberta delegate Humphrey Banack said improved business risk management programs are critical.
“At the levels we’re at, at the 70 percent coverage level for AgriStability, it just doesn’t cover those risks,” he said, adding that some sectors have no coverage at all.
MacAulay replied that farmers and organizations should push their provincial ministers on the issue, too, because they all have to agree.
“I have to have the support of the provinces,” he said.
The House of Commons agriculture committee has just completed its report on the next policy framework, but it hasn’t yet been made public.
Anderson said federal officials who appeared before the committee were non-committal on the topic of funding.
“I think farmers need to pay attention to this, just keep their eye on what’s being included in this and then how they might expect to see that money being spent,” he said.
Some have expressed concern about how much money value-added and food processing would require from a pot that is already smaller than it was in the 2008-13 agreement.
A resolution from the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan that would restrict framework funding to primary agriculture was narrowly defeated.