Western politicians and farm leaders were not happy to hear that changes to the Advance Payments Program could be months in the making.
Federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau was asked during a recent conference call organized by the Canola Council of Canada when new regulations changing the APP limit to $1 million and the interest-free portion to $500,000 would be ready.
She said work still needs to be done to get the regulations changed.
“I think it’s a matter of a few weeks. We’re almost there,” she said.
Shortly after she backtracked on that statement and broadened the time horizon.
“I wish it was the matter of a few weeks but it could be a couple of months,” said Bibeau.
Saskatchewan Agriculture Minister David Marit said that is unacceptable.
“We’re very concerned and very disappointed,” he said.
Marit met with Bibeau at the end of March to discuss the rule changes and believes the federal government should have been laying the groundwork long before the changes were announced on May 1.
“The applications should have been out in the third week of May at the latest,” he said.
“Seeding is virtually done. We still don’t have a program and farmers have bills to pay.”
Bernie McClean, president of the Canadian Canola Growers Association, was also upset by the delay.
“There are producers out there that are depending on this,” he said.
He knows of growers who decided not to take out a line of credit with their bank, electing instead to use the enhanced cash advance program.
“I know guys are really looking for this,” said McClean. “I’m fielding quite a few of these calls. There’s a real sense of urgency here.”
He said there was no mention that it may take months to implement the rule changes when the government made the announcement.
“All indications were that this was going to happen fairly quickly and all of the sudden now it’s not,” said McClean.
Bibeau made it clear that Canadian canola growers should not count on receiving the type of ad hoc payments American soybean growers are getting. The minister was asked by some growers if the government was considering something along the lines of the US$16-billion aid package that the United States Department of Agriculture announced, which includes $14.5 billion in direct payments.
“I would say that in Canada, you know, we work differently, we have a different philosophy,” said Bibeau. “We think that working in a way that we can give you stability and predictability is much higher value than it could be just to react for a short-term period.”
She said the government is open to reconsidering the existing business risk management programs, depending on what is being proposed, but she wasn’t enamored with a “quick reaction of financial support.”
“We are afraid that it could create distortion in the market,” she said.
Marit is in agreement with his federal counterpart on that point. He said any ad hoc payment would be subject to a trade challenge and he doesn’t want to go that route.
Bibeau provided clarification about the cash advance rule changes during the conference call.
The new C$1-million advance limit is permanent and available to all commodities. The $500,000 interest-free portion of the advance is only for canola growers and is only for 2019. For other commodities, it remains at $100,000.
She also said the new rules would be retroactive to the date of adoption of the regulation. McClean thinks that requires further clarification.
Marit wants the rules to be retroactive to the May 1 announcement.
Bibeau said the federal government is working on a lasting resolution to the canola impasse and won’t stop until it gets one.
She recently met with Chinese Agriculture Minister Han Chungfu during a G20 minister’s meeting in Japan.
“I urged him that this situation must be resolved quickly,” she said. “I also expressed that Canada is increasingly troubled by the lack of evidence provided to us regarding the pests of concern.”
A similar message was delivered to the World Trade Organization by Canadian ambassador Stephen de Boer, who said Canada is looking for pest risk assessments, sampling and testing methodologies and access to the specimens detected.
China has refused to allow a Canadian scientific delegation led by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency into the country for face-to-face meetings with their Chinese counterparts.
Bibeau said she raised the issue with Han who agreed to raise it with the minister responsible for China Customs.