Government consultations with farmers on design of next farm supports a sham

It makes a mockery of consultation with farmers.

Veteran eastern Ontario Conservative MP Cheryl Gallant recently asked farmers in her rural riding to attend an Aug. 27 meeting to give her and the government input on the next five-year farm program framework.

Current business risk management programs like AgriStability, AgriInvest and AgriInsurance are due to expire March 31, 2013, she wrote.

“I need YOUR help (emphasis hers) to provide suggestions and ideas for Growing Forward 2 to ensure future agricultural programs will meet the needs of local farmers,” Gallant wrote to farmer constituents Aug. 10.

Across the country, Conservative MPs and many provincial agriculture ministers have discovered this summer the need to hold meetings with farmers to get input on what programs should look like.

When farm organizations and leaders discovered this summer that major cuts and changes in emphasis are planned with no farmer consultation or input, there was pushback.

With the Growing Forward 2 cat out of the bag as a deal that will be decided and farmers then will be told about, politicians have scrambled to organize meetings to brief farmers on possible plans (nothing has been decided so we can’t talk about specifics, they like to say, although that is organic natural fertilizer) and to seek “input.”

Here’s the problem.

Ministers and officials have been negotiating this for close to two years.

The outlines of the next suite of programs have already been mapped out: reductions in AgriStability coverage, hundreds of millions of dollars of reduction in expected government payments over the next five years and more emphasis on innovation and competitiveness investment.

Ministers will sign onto the principles of the new framework Sept. 14 at a Whitehorse meeting.

It will be implemented April 1, 2013.

To repeat, the principles of the new federal-provincial five-year deal will be endorsed by ministers 15 days after Gallant’s important meeting to get farmer input.

It is a farce.

Farmers in Ontario’s Renfrew County or Saskatchewan or British Columbia will have precious little opportunity to influence the programs that flow from this agreement and that will influence their businesses for the next five years.

The politicians argue this is an attempt to re-orient program support to market solutions rather than program payment dependence.

That may or may not be a good thing, but it would have been more seemly if farmers had been brought along for the ride earlier in the trip.

To ask them for “input” at 15 seconds to midnight is an insult to the promise of farmer consultation and a farmer “partnership” with government, as Canadian Federation of Agriculture president Ron Bonnett likes to say exists.

It is a sham consultation designed more for public relations cover than for real farmer input.

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