Bibeau’s value largely rests on ability to enact BRM reform

The long-term value current federal Minister of Agriculture Marie Claude Bibeau will provide to farmers hinges largely on her ability to reform business risk management programming.

That is a difficult and expensive task.

The current plan to reform business risk management (BRM) programs was made back in 2017, when Ottawa and the provinces agreed to a five-year agricultural partnership.

The agreement included a commitment to pay for BRM programming, with 60 percent of the funds coming from Ottawa and 40 percent by way of provincial and territorial governments.

Canadians have since seen an election — where the victorious Liberals campaigned on improving BRM programs — and a new agriculture minister, Bibeau, was ushered into the role.

If reforming the programs were easy, it would have been done by now.

As readers know, long-expected BRM changes have not occurred, despite Bibeau continuing to claim improving the programs, particularly AgriStability, is a priority.

This will cost money.

Adjusting AgriStability’s reference margin limit to 85 percent levels, or close to it, will cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and there are other expensive changes being proposed.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, it was apparent no changes were going to be made until at least July, but even that was optimistic.

By the start of 2020, the Liberals had spent billions of dollars more than what they were expected to when they released their budget 10 months earlier.

None of that extra spending was used on BRM reform.

If the changes were a priority for government, it would have proved it in its spending decisions.

Instead, Bibeau insisted that a review of the program was appropriate to make sure.

To recap: the Liberals announced a review of the programs in 2017 and continued to express a desire to reform BRMs.

Despite increasing funding beyond what they originally budgeted for on a number of fronts, no additional money was given to improve the programs because Bibeau required a review.

Now, it seems like it might be a long time before Ottawa is ready to put more money on the table, even if it does know which program it should go toward.

A recent economic and fiscal snapshot from Ottawa showed $527 million being directed to agriculture and agri-food as a result of COVID-19.

Some of that money is being used to increase funding to existing BRM programs.

None of that money is being used to help usher in changes to AgriStability, or other BRM programs.

The same snapshot also showed Canada will post a $343 billion deficit as the Liberals try to navigate the economic fallout of the COVID-19 crisis.

Bibeau’s party has demonstrated a willingness to spend more than what it originally budgeted for and a willingness to spend money in general.

It’s a shame it has not found some dollars to improve BRM programs.

Part of the blame for the delay rests on the provinces, each of which can make its own case for why it has not been in a position to spend more in recent years on its 40 percent share of the cost. Some provinces are even believed to be arguing their current share of the bill is too high.

But leadership needs to come from Bibeau.

D.C. Fraser is Glacier Farm Media’s Ottawa correspondent. Reach out to him by emailing dfraser@farmmedia.com.

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