No cuts in gov’t funding for Alta. ag societies

Alberta’s agricultural societies will receive the money earmarked in the provincial budget without any reduction in the amount, the provincial government announced Sept. 27.

The news was welcomed by agricultural societies across the province and by Tim Carson, chief executive officer of the Alberta Association of Agricultural Societies.

“Quite relieved, and so are our members,” is how Carson de-scribed his reaction to the news that the full funding allocated in the March budget would be forthcoming.

“That said, there’s nothing in stone for 2018 or beyond. Every year, regardless of who’s in government, they have to go through their justification process” for funding allocation, said Carson.

“Our program has come through that reflective process very well, but it’s not based on how well the program is working. It may simply be based on, ‘what can the government do to save some money?’ ”

Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier said the government decided not to reduce funds for agricultural societies, and the money will be disbursed soon. Carson said he thinks cheques will start arriving at agriculture societies as early as this week.

“Our government has been in the process of assessing the current budget to find savings in order to fairly and responsibly reduce the deficit,” Carlier said in an email.

“As part of this, we assessed the current funding levels for agricultural societies. We know and understand the good work that these organizations do in small towns and rural communities across the province and how they make life better for rural Albertans.”

As of late September, agricultural societies had not received funds that are usually dispersed in June or early July. The AAAS informed its members Sept. 11 that the government had signalled that a reduction in funds was pending.

By that time the agricultural societies had gone ahead with their events and programs, and a few volunteer members had used their own money to tide things over, Carson said.

The United Conservative Party urged the government in several news releases to provide the funds as indicated in the March provincial budget.

As well, the AAAS provided information to the government about agriculture societies and their contributions to rural and small town life. That information included results from a 2012 study indicating agriculture societies contribute millions of dollars worth of volunteer labour annually and their events and activities generate $53 million in local spending.

“We’re very grateful that they were able to follow through with the original commitment that was in the 2017 budget,” said Carson about last week’s announcement.

“But by the same token, we recognize that the financial challenges for the province haven’t gone away. From a provincial association standpoint, we’re going to have to continue to advocate on behalf of our members and their communities for the 2018 budget and beyond to try to ensure that these vital programs remain alive and well in those communities.”

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