Sask. must help fix AgriStability
Canada’s federal, provincial and territorial agriculture ministers meet every year to co-ordinate their farm policies and programs, many of which are paid for jointly — with 60 percent of the funding coming from the Government of Canada.
After the ministers’ annual meeting back in 2012, I remember provincial spokespersons for Saskatchewan expressing serious misgivings about what Stephen Harper’s Conservative government was planning to do, back then, to cut vital farm support programs like AgriStability. Mr. Harper was riveted on slashing federal spending to create the illusion of a balanced budget by 2015.
Saskatchewan’s worries were justified. The Conservatives made AgriStability harder to access and much less generous, which slashed payouts to farmers by hundreds of millions of dollars, making the program a hollow shell of what it once was, just as subsidies to farmers in the U.S. and Europe were escalating.
Farm organizations are calling for this damage to be repaired. Most recently, that message came loud and clear from the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, the Canadian Pork Council and Grain Growers of Canada.
They all support improvements proposed by federal agriculture minister Marie-Claude Bateau that would boost AgriStability payouts to farmers by about 50 percent. The biggest benefits would flow to farmers in Saskatchewan.
Since this is a jointly funded program, the federal minister cannot make these improvements all by herself. She needs provincial governments to agree, especially major producing provinces like Saskatchewan — and soon, so the benefits can apply to 2020.
The federal government will always pay the lion’s share — 60 percent. The provincial treasury’s portion is smaller — it would amount to less than 0.15 percent of Saskatchewan’s total annual budget. It’s time to get this important job done.
Former federal cabinet minister
Ag office closures blow to rural Manitoba
As I’m sure you are well aware, the government of Manitoba will be closing 21 Manitoba Agriculture offices across this province — Altona, Ashern, Birtle, Deloraine, Fisher Branch, Gladstone, Glenboro, Grandview, Hamiota, Lundar, Morris, Pilot Mound, Russell, Shoal Lake, Somerset, St. Pierre Jolys, Ste. Rose du Lac, Teulon, Vita and Waskada.
In addition to job losses, these cuts will eliminate or reduce important agriculture and rural business services in your community. These cuts will also, no doubt, be a major burden on the families impacted by these cuts and to agricultural producers who lean on the Department of Agriculture such as MASC for advice and access to programs and services.
At a time when our communities and our local businesses are reeling due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is shocking that the provincial government would further hurt rural communities with these significant cuts.
The government calls this “modernizing” and “elevating the client experience,” when what it really is, is a further barrier for rural Manitobans. Many producers will have to settle for virtual services and travel farther when they need in-person customer service. They will be expected to manoeuvre through a computer program rather than talk to a real person. How is this supporting our farmers?
I’m urging your readers to reach out to their MLA and voice their concerns regarding these office closures. Our future depends on it.
Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union president