Bibeau willing to meet on AgriStability

The prairie provinces, Saskatchewan in particular, say the cost would strain their treasuries at the existing cost-sharing funding arrangement.
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Federal agriculture minister Marie-Claude Bibeau is willing to meet with her provincial and territorial counterparts to discuss proposed AgriStability changes, but is not willing to change her proposal.

Saskatchewan had asked for a federal-provincial-territorial government meeting after Bibeau’s Nov. 27 proposal to remove the reference margin limit and increase compensation from 70 percent to 80 percent. The changes would be retroactive to include 2020.

The prairie provinces, Saskatchewan in particular, say the cost would strain their treasuries at the existing cost-sharing funding arrangement.

A spokesperson for Bibeau said Jan. 25 that she is happy to discuss the offer.

“However, there are things that would be non-negotiable and that would include the 60-40 split,” the spokesperson said, referring to the 60-percent federal, 40-percent provincial cost-share of the program.

The spokesperson said a meeting is possible “as long as it’s not meant to re-open the negotiations.”

“We’ve made our proposal very clear,” the spokesperson said.

The changes would cost about $170 million in total; $102 million is the federal share. Removing the reference margin limit (RML) would boost funding available to farmers by more than 30 percent, while increasing the compensation rate would increase it by more than 50 percent, according to federal estimates.

The provinces had hoped Ottawa would pick up a greater share of the tab considering that the changes are coming midway through the current five-year agreement.

Last week, Bibeau and Ontario minister Ernie Hardeman issued a joint statement urging all provinces to sign on and soon, saying “swift endorsement and delivery of this enhanced AgriStability program is critical.”

The retroactive portion of the proposal is the problem.

Governments are running out of time to make that possible. Bibeau had asked for decisions to be made by Jan. 31. That’s a soft deadline in the sense that it makes it more difficult to make the program retroactive the later it gets, the spokesperson said.

Several provinces are on board but the prairie ministers have yet to say what their provinces will do.

In Saskatchewan, the changes would cost about $40 million. Removing the RML costs about $20 million per year, and increasing the compensation was estimated at $27.5 million at an 85-percent rate, which is what farm organizations had requested.

“The cost of the proposed enhancements under the funding model put forward by the federal government is considerable in Saskatchewan given the scope of our industry,” said agriculture minister David Marit. “We also understand the issues producers are facing. This is an important discussion and we need to ensure we give it appropriate consideration.”

Manitoba minister Blaine Pedersen issued a similar statement.

“Supporting the growth and resiliency of Manitoba’s agricultural sector is a priority for the department of agriculture and resource development and the government of Manitoba,” he said in an emailed statement. “The AgriStability program changes that the federal government are proposing are still being considered by Manitoba.”

Both Manitoba and Alberta, which has also not yet made a decision, have estimated their costs at $15 million or more.

Changes to business risk management programs require two-thirds of the provinces and territories to agree, and at least two-thirds of program participation.

Farm organizations like the changes, saying they are a start toward improving business risk management programs for the next five-year agreement. The current $3-billion Canadian Agricultural Partnership expires March 31, 2023.

Canadian Federation of Agriculture president Mary Robinson said the offer is not perfect but it will make a difference for many farm families. She urged provincial governments to sign on.

“A short-term investment is needed right now to provide a bridge to a better long-term program and a foundation for new programming options in 2023,” Robinson wrote in an opinion article.

Grain Growers of Canada has said it recognizes the challenges provinces face but that agriculture is a worthwhile investment that will drive an economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

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