Farmers await date for federal-provincial ministerial meeting

The conclusion of Saskatchewan’s election allows the long-awaited federal-provincial-territorial meetings to finally happen.

But first a date is needed.

These meetings were originally scheduled for July. The pandemic forced a delay to October, until it was realized Saskatchewan’s provincial election was eating up the bulk of the month, meaning November was the earliest they could happen.

Unofficially, as of this writing on Oct. 29, it appears as if a date closer to Dec. 1 than Nov. 1 will be chosen.

The Saskatchewan Party’s predictable victory means a new provincial government won’t have to rush together plans for the meetings. Presumably the province is ready to go.

Surely, the other provinces, having endured the series of delays, are also prepared.

Ottawa has been trying to make it happen for months. It is ready, too.

Perhaps naively, I thought a date would have been selected almost immediately after the Saskatchewan Party was formally re-elected, given its victory was basically a foregone conclusion.

But three days after the election, no official date had been selected.

“We are looking at the annual meeting of Federal-Provincial-Territorial Ministers of Agriculture split over two days before the end of November. We expect the dates, as well as the agenda, to be finalized soon,” read a statement from Ontario Agriculture Minister Ernie Hardeman’s office, who is responsible for chairing the meetings.

Saskatchewan’s government, preparing to settle in for another four years of majority rule, said in a statement there are proposed dates “but we are waiting on a final confirmed date and agenda.”

There is no official word from the federal government, but it is believed Ottawa has identified a couple of dates in mid-to-late November for the meetings.

It’s clear there remains at least some degree of politics surrounding these meetings.

Provinces, including Saskatchewan, are expected to continue making the case they should pay less than what they currently are for business risk management programs, which are funded by federal and provincial governments at a cost-share ratio of 60-40. The cost has averaged roughly $1.5 billion in the past five years, but is expected to be higher this year because of the pandemic.

At issue is producers wanting more money at a time when governments are taking on arguably unsustainable debt levels. Naturally, the provinces want the feds to pay more, while the feds have stated they are comfortable with at least maintaining the current funding levels.

Realistically, the hope these meetings result in major positive changes for producers should remain low.

Provinces and the federal government are more likely to try and position themselves for negotiating funding levels for a future agreement, which is still a few years down the road. If anything, minor tweaks will be made, but even that may be wishful thinking.

Meanwhile, when the Liberals prorogued government in August, it simultaneously halted a draft report on BRM programs being completed by a federal committee. That report was being concluded after the committee heard testimony from dozens of witnesses.

The committee, back at it now, met for a closed-door meeting on Oct. 28 to review a draft report of its BRM review.

It’s expected all the delays to the federal-provincial-territorial meetings will allow the draft report to be completed and sent to Minister of Agriculture Marie-Claude Bibeau before she meets with her provincial counterparts — whenever that is.

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

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