In a unique press conference on Thursday, the leaders of the NDP official opposition parties in the three Prairie provinces appeared together to urge their respective Conservative premiers to support the federal government’s proposed changes to the agricultural risk management program called AgriStability.
All three Prairie province governments have been dragging their feet about signing on to the re-jigged cost sharing program that would only cost the three provinces in the neighbourhood of about $10 million each.
Late last month, the governments of the three Prairie provinces did agree to eliminate the so-called reference margin — the level after which compensation would kick in — but they continue to refuse to agree to increase the benefits from 70 per cent of losses to 80 per cent.
The program is cost-shared 60-40 between the federal and provincial governments and provides benefits to farmers and ranchers to cover losses due to thing like floods or international trade disputes.
The changes — both the elimination of the reference margin and the increased amount of losses that would be covered — would result in an annual increase in payouts of 50 per cent, or $170 million.
Of that increase, $100 million would come from Ottawa and the remaining $70 million from the provinces and territories.
Saskatchewan NDP Leader Ryan Meili said he thinks it is political when it comes to Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe.
"This premier (Moe) likes to point the finger at the federal government," he said. "He likes to distract from anything that is his own fault and try to put the blame on anyone else. Perhaps he does not want support from the federal government to be seen as a good thing."
Wab Kinew, leader of the Manitoba NDP, believes Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister’s Conservative party is taking farm families and farm communities — who overwhelming vote Conservative — for granted.
"This will cost as much as what Pallister is spending sending cheques out as part of his latest political stunt (regarding) property tax rebates," Kinew said
Rachel Notley, the leader of the Alberta NDP, mocked the government of Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s $30 million energy "war room" relative to the $7-to-$10 million it would cost her province to sign on to the new AgriStability program.
Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island have all signed on, but the agreement requires at least two of the three Prairie provinces to approve the changes for them to be enacted.
During the federal-provincial-territorial agricultural ministers meeting late last month, It was announced that the enrolment deadline of April 30, 2021, for farmers to join the program was extended to June 30, 2021.
Not surprisingly, there is solidarity among agricultural producer groups throughout the Prairies who are unanimous in their support for the changes. Last month, Bill Campbell, the president of Keystone Agricultural Producers, the largest producer group in the province, said, "We have never had a clear indication of why this is not moving forward,"
Considering the relatively inexpensive cost to each of the provinces individually, it is still not clear.
Asked for some rationale, a spokesperson for Blaine Pedersen, Manitoba’s minister of agriculture and resource development, did not really provide one.
Instead, the spokesperson said, "We listened to producers express concerns that AgriStability is complicated and unpredictable and that is why at the March 25 federal, provincial and territorial agriculture ministers’ meeting we agreed to remove the reference margin limit. The Prairie provinces continue to encourage the federal government to commit their 60 per cent share of the proposed compensation rate change."
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.