Manitoba election: PCs commit to ALUS

UPDATED: Monday April 11, 2016 – 0930 CST – The Progressive Conservative party is promising a new strategy to manage flooding and improve water quality in Manitoba.

If they win the April 19 provincial election, the Tories say they will implement an Alternative Land Use Services (ALUS) program across the province, in which landowners are paid to retain or re-construct natural areas such as wetlands, grasslands and riparian areas near rivers.

“There are other provinces in Canada that have already stepped in this direction,” said Dan Mazier, Keystone Agricultural Producers president.

“This program was designed for a broad, national approach of mitigating any type of environmental impact…. ALUS is just a good, positive tool for agriculture to use.”

The PCs committed to ALUS April 8, when they released a comprehensive policy platform.

ALUS uses an ecosystem services model, which places a monetary value on actions that preserve water quality, sequester carbon, mitigate flooding or protect wildlife habitat.

Five communities in Ontario have ALUS programs, and there are also two projects in Saskatchewan, seven in Alberta and one in Manitoba.

Prince Edward Island is the only jurisdiction in Canada to have a province-wide ALUS program.

“In P.E.I. … 97 percent of the farmers participate,” said Lara Ellis, director of ecosystem markets, business and policy development with ALUS Canada.

“A good amount of the funding (for ALUS) comes from existing government programs … at the provincial and federal level…. There is also municipal dollars and philanthropic support.”

Delta Waterfowl and the W. Garfield Weston Foundation are two of the groups that fund ALUS projects in Canada.

Some policy-makers and environmental groups have criticized the ecosystem services model. They say farmers shouldn’t be paid for doing the right thing, and the program is unaffordable on a large scale.

Ellis said the ongoing cost of payments for activities such as preserving wetlands and riparian areas is much cheaper than spending millions on built infrastructure.

ALUS proponents have said the Assiniboine River floods of 2011 and 2014 illustrated the cost of doing nothing.

Manitoba and the federal government spent hundreds of millions to build up dikes and reinforce infrastructure along the river during those two floods.

“I think we’ve finally come to the point where everybody has realized we need to deal with landscape management or we will pay the price,” said Ian Wishart, PC MLA for Portage la Prairie who has promoted ALUS for nearly 15 years.

“We pay the price on a number of fronts. Flooding is just one. Water quality is another one, habitat loss is the third one and the whole carbon offset is another big factor.”

Wishart, former president of KAP, was instrumental in getting ALUS off the ground in Canada. He was the driving force behind the first ALUS project in the country, which was conducted from 2006-08 in the Rural Municipality of Blanshard, north of Rivers, Man.

The NDP said it is now focusing on other approaches for agriculture and environmental outcomes.

“We all share the desire for a sustainable industry, and the work we have done together has come a long way since ALUS was first introduced,” an NDP spokesperson said.

“The Manitoba NDP believe that productivity, sustainability and environmental protection can all be accomplished by working together and achieving a balanced approach in policy and programming.”

Contact robert.arnason@producer.com

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