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This article was published 24/10/2017 (983 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Environmentalists warned that the Pallister government is endangering Lake Winnipeg by eliminating legislative controls on hog production, while the industry said the existing law does little to protect the environment and puts unnecessary constraints on an industry that employs 13,000 people.
An omnibus bill that would amend or repeal 15 pieces of provincial legislation drew dozens of presenters – from environmentalists and farm lobbyists to unions and private citizens – in the first of two evenings of hearings at the legislature Monday night.
More than 60 groups and individuals have signed up to address (Bill 24) the proposed Red Tape Reduction and Government Efficiency Act.
Much of Monday night's attention focussed on planned regulatory changes to the province's hog industry.
Bill 24 would end a general prohibition on the construction or expansion of manure storage facilities for hog operations. Oversight over hog production would be by regulation, rather than legislation. The key proposed change is the elimination of the requirement that farmers install high-cost anaerobic digesters to treat manure before it is spread on or incorporated into fields.
The digesters cost more than $1 million each and have put a big damper on barn construction in Manitoba. The hog industry said the requirement is unnecessary, given the great availability of land on which to deposit manure.
It also argued that the required equipment doesn't accomplish what the former NDP government said it would when it required them to be installed in hog operations.
That was confirmed by Dennis Hodgkinson, an engineer and expert on the technology who appeared before a committee of MLAs Monday evening. "If it was introduced thinking it would reduce nutrients on farms, it was misguided," he said of the mandatory use of anaerobic digesters.
Hodginkson said the equipment's main benefit is the ability to produce green energy. But with no financial incentives to produce or market such energy, the technology only acted as a huge economic drain on hog farms.
Mike Stainton, appearing on behalf of the Lake Winnipeg Foundation, said his organization is concerned that there are insufficient data to determine if current manure management practices are effective. Despite this lack of evidence, Bill 24 proposes to repeal sections of the Environment Act that govern the phosphorus-producing activities of the province's hog industry, he said.
Currently, the Act prohibits spreading of livestock manure on farm fields between Nov. 10 and April 10. Arguably this ban on winter spreading is the most important pollution-prevention measure undertaken to help Lake Winnipeg in the past two decades, Stainton said.
While winter manure spreading would continue to be prohibited by regulation, the foundation said a legislative ban would provide better protection for Manitoba's water.
Kevin Rebeck, president of the Manitoba Federation of Labour, criticized the wide-ranging bill, saying it would weaken water quality testing, ramp up hog barn construction "leading to further damage to Lake Winnipeg," and erase taxpayer protections related to the construction of major infrastructure projects all in the name of cutting red tape.
"For a government who came into power preaching more openness and transparency, this omnibus bill is anything but open and transparent," he said.
Rebeck was especially critical of the government's decision to repeal The Public-Private Partnerships Transparency and Accountability Act, which sets rules for public sector organizations that take part in public-private partnerships or P3s. By forcing governments to demonstrate to taxpayers what a project would cost under a P3 model, the current law forces governments to be open and transparent when considering this type of model for public buildings such as schools, he said.
"The fact is, they want to eliminate reporting requirements because they know full well that P3s are a bad deal for taxpayers, and they want to hide the true costs from public scrutiny," Rebeck said of the Progressive Conservatives.
Michelle Gawronsky, president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees Union, expressed concern with the government's red tape reduction goals, in which, initially, two regulations will be eliminated for each new one created.
Gawronsky said she hoped that the weakening of water inspection regulations in Bill 24 would not lead to a tragedy on the scale of the 2000 E. coli outbreak in Walkerton, Ont., in which seven people died and 2,300 became ill.
"Investigations into the causes of the tragedy found that improper practices, the lack of government provisions for notification of testing results, and the recent privatization of municipal water testing all played key roles in the crisis," she said.
Bill 24 would reduce the frequency with which public and semi-public water suppliers must do an assessment of their infrastructure and water sources from once every five years to once every 10 years.
Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.
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