UPDATE: Thurs. Feb. 13, 2014
Originally published Wed. Feb. 12, 2014
by JIM ALGIE
A livestock insurance pilot project exclusively for Western Canadian farmers shows the federal government is “turning its back on Ontario,” Premier Kathleen Wynne said in a statement, today.
“Once again, Ontario is left out,” Wynne said in a response to Better Farming inquiries about the insurance pilot project identified in Tuesday’s budget by federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty. Premier Wynne is also provincial minister of agriculture, food and rural affairs. The response was emailed via her agriculture press secretary, Mark Cripps.
“The federal government has opted for a regional deal with Western Canada and continues to refuse to discuss business risk management options preferred by Ontario’s producers,” Wynne said. Cripps issued her statement following a media conference at the provincial legislature reacting to the federal budget. Both Wynne and Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa attacked the federal budget as part of long-standing unfairness in federal financial dealings with the province.
The premier did not address agriculture directly in remarks to reporters, which were broadcast on the Internet. However, Wynne did accuse the federal government of drastic cuts in recent years to provincial transfer payments.
The premier also released a list of 116 programs affected by federal cuts, including eight in agriculture. Among them are: eliminating Statistics Canada’s rural research group, closing agricultural research stations in Delhi and Kapuskasing, cuts to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and further cuts to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.
“The 2014 federal budget expands the livestock insurance program in Western Canada but fails to provide a commitment to support Ontario’s Risk Management Program (RMP),” the premier’s subsequent statement said. “We have been seeking federal support for, and participation in, RMP since its introduction,” Wynne said.
Likewise, both NDP and Liberal opposition critics for agriculture in the House of Commons seemed puzzled during post-budget interviews, today, by the federal government’s moves on livestock insurance. The NDP’s Malcolm Allen and Liberal Wayne Easter said the budget lacks clear information about its key announcements: added food inspection; expanded broadband communications in rural areas and the four-year pilot program to insure Western cattle and hog farmers against unexpected price drops.
The livestock insurance program is available only to Western farmers and follows a pattern set by a similar program available in Alberta since 2009.
“I am shocked the federal government will be implementing a price insurance program for the Western livestock industry while ignoring the needs of Eastern livestock producers,” Easter said.
For his part, Allen said it’s strange the federal government would decide against operating the pilot nationally.
“Why wouldn’t you do it as a national pilot?” Allen said. “The biggest complaint about the provincial Alberta model is that it was distorting in the market place,” the NDP agriculture critic said.
The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association welcomed expansion of the Alberta concept when it was announced recently and has advocated such measures nationally. Canadian Pork Council communications manager Gary Stordy played down worries about the potential for regional disparities because of the Western Canadian pilot.
The program was actually announced recently by Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz. The concept has received widespread discussion among provincial agencies and producer groups in recent years, Stordy said in an interview.
“It’s not clear what the pickup is currently,” the Pork Council spokesman said, adding initial adoption of the concept among Alberta hog farmers was slow.
“It shouldn’t affect the market,” Stordy said. “It does provide another tool for producers to use to manage their risk,” he said.
Beef Farmers of Ontario communications manager LeaAnne Wuermli expressed disappointment “that the federal government did not extend the program across Canada.” Her organization “looks forward to the results from the Western Livestock Price Insurance Program pilot,” Wuermli said in an emailed statement. She added national access to the program had been recommended to the government by Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) officials.
CCA President Martin Unrau and Vice President Dave Solverson welcomed budget news of the Western Livestock Price Insurance Program in an association statement issued in late January. The statement describes both men as “passionate advocates for cattle price insurance program.” They will “continue to push federal and provincial governments to develop an effective and affordable national price and basis insurance program for cattle producers,” the statement said.
The Calgary-based national beef producers group welcomed Tuesday’s budget measures. A statement issued, Tuesday, describes the Western livestock insurance program as “a positive step towards the CCA’s goal of achieving a national plan.”
The statement also praises continued federal support for BSE eradication measures, new tax deferrals for weather-affected sales of livestock and investment in increased market access, innovation and competitiveness.
The Quebec farm organization, Union des Producteurs Agricole, used the budget to roundly criticize the federal government for a long-term program of cuts in agricultural spending. A statement by Union communications director Elaine Hamel cites cuts last year in payments through federal AgriInvest and AgriStability programs. The budget “offers no significant initiative to support the development of the agricultural sector,” Hamel said. BF
UPDATE: Thurs. Feb. 13, 2014
photo: Gerry Ritz
Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, in an email statement sent to Better Farming on Wednesday by his director of communications, said all provinces were invited to participate in the federal livestock insurance program pilot.
"The fact is that rather than support this bankable and predictable insurance based program, Ontario remains stuck on RMP which is countervailable, distorts market signals, would put trade at risk and thus is not supported by the federal government,” he says. BF