Agriculture Canada to shrink following cuts

UPDATE: April 15, 2013 – Ag Canada spending forecasts below originally read “$2.82 billion next year…” The correct figure is $2.28 billion.

When Agriculture Canada’s report on its plans and priorities was tabled in Parliament in late March, agriculture minister Gerry Ritz wrote that the times present “a tremendous opportunity to rethink and reshape Canadian agriculture.”

Part of the rethinking and reshaping clearly involves making his department a smaller player.

A goal, the report said, is “to achieve a smaller departmental footprint. It will position (Agriculture Canada) to meet its future goals and priorities while contributing to the government’s return to a balanced budget.”

It means hundreds of millions of dollars in reduced spending on safety nets, administration and most program areas within Agriculture Canada as well as at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

It also means a reduction of 300 Agriculture Canada employees over the next three years and 931 positions at the CFIA.

However, the CFIA report said the cuts “will not decrease the number of front-line food safety inspection staff.”

Treasury Board president Tony Clement tabled planning reports for all government departments and agencies just as MPs were preparing to leave Ottawa for a two-week break from Parliament. The reports are for the fiscal year started April 1 and through the next two fiscal years.

The government’s claims that its plans will have little impact in agriculture or food safety will be fodder for political debate in Parliament after MPs return April 15.

The Agriculture Canada report projects a departmental spending decrease from forecast spending of $2.85 billion in the year ended March 31 to $2.45 billion this year and $2.28 billion next year, which are funding decreases of 14 and 20 percent, respectively.

Some of that reduction comes from the fact that Ottawa’s contributions to spending deals signed with provinces under the new Growing Forward 2 programs launched April 1 were added to the 2012-13 total. As well, the federal government budgeted $182 million last year to pick up the costs of ending the CWB monopoly. That funding falls sharply this year.

The department says a significant reorganization of the bureaucracy, including program consolidation and sharing with the CFIA, will save $253 million annually by next year.

As a result, Agriculture Canada staff levels (full-time equivalent) are expected to fall from 5,721 this year to 5,425 by 2015-16.

Sharp projected spending cuts are also planned in some of the branches.

Spending on science, innovation and adaptation will fall by almost 25 percent by next year.

The report said the emphasis is on a different research focus that involves more than government.

“Increased focus will be placed on knowledge creation and transfer, partnerships with industry and private sector investment in Canadian research and development.”

Meanwhile, spending on agribusiness development is set to more than double this year to $117 million.

The budget for environmental sustainability and on-farm environmental programs drops by 54 percent this year to $89 million.

As well, co-operative funding has declined to a trickle in the department’s plan as responsibility for co-ops moves from Agriculture Canada.

The report to Parliament outlines reductions in benefits for farmers under several key business risk management programs that kicked in April 1, but there is no estimate of the savings over the years. However, some farm group analysts have projected savings in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Strong commodity prices also will reduce the cost of those programs.

At the CFIA, the plans and priorities report shows a decline in planned spending from $731 million this year to $620 million by 2015-16.

The report said the spending cut reflects administrative efficiency savings, the winding down of some programs and a transfer of pay services to the public works department.

“None of these efficiencies affect front-line food inspection staff,” the report said.

However, the agency’s workforce is projected to decline 14 percent over the next three years and by 931 full-time positions.

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