by SUSAN MANN
Ontario Federation of Agriculture president Mark Wales is challenging Don Drummond’s assertion the province’s Business Risk Management program doesn’t give farmers an incentive to increase efficiency or expand markets.
It’s clear from Drummond’s comments “he doesn’t understand how the program works,” Wales notes. “From our perspective the program does help drive innovation.”
Drummond, a former TD Bank chief economist, made the comment in his two-volume, 668-page report and recommendations to the Ontario government released this week on what it must do to balance its budget by 2018. If nothing is done, the report of the Commission on the Reform of Ontario’s Public Services says, Ontario’s deficit could increase from $16 billion this year to $30.2 billion by 2017-18.
There are 362 cost-cutting recommendations in the report on topics including higher hydro bills, larger school class sizes, fewer hospitals, user fees and cutting the full-day kindergarten program.
Wales says the permanent business risk management program was introduced last year for grains and oilseeds along with beef, veal, sheep, pork and edible horticulture producers. With farmers paying premiums and government paying part of the premium “we all share the responsibility and the cost.”
By instilling some stability at the farm level, the program gives farmers the confidence to plan ahead and enables them to plan to be more labour, fertilizer and fuel efficient, plus increase yields and productivity, Wales explains.
Drummond recommended the government review all business support programs not just the business risk management program in agriculture, and prioritize them with a view to supporting ones driving innovation and cutting ones that don’t.
Wales says the important thing is that the government realizes the program gives farmers the capacity to be innovative.
Lorne Small, Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario president, agrees with Drummond’s view that businesses the government supports should be accountable and it should ensure key objectives are met. But he’s surprised Drummond chose to talk about the most recently implemented agriculture program.
Small, who’s read 100 pages of the mammoth report so far and plans to read all of it, says his interpretation of the report is Drummond wasn’t targeting that program specifically but “using it as an example” for government to do better in the future.
Small says Drummond notes the government is bearing the risk under the program but farmers aren’t bearing much of it. There would be a big bill for the government to shoulder if there was a real hardship in agriculture.
As for the provincial agriculture ministry, Minister Ted McMeekin says by email that the government thanks the commission for its hard work though as Premier Dalton McGuinty has said the commission “will give us advice and we will make the decisions.”
Farm leaders say there were some positive elements to the report. Wales highlighted Drummond’s comments about regulatory reform.
Wales says Drummond introduced a new term – “jurisdictional crowding” – that he’s going to start using. The term refers to government ministries overlapping on the same activity and “we get that in agriculture quite a bit.”
Drummond’s regulatory reform comments tie in with the Ontario government’s open for business process to eliminate a lot of unnecessary regulation that just “makes it harder for farmers to farm,” Wales notes.
Small says there wasn’t a chapter on agriculture in the report instead the industry was included in with business. To look at agriculture as a business is healthy, he notes.
Ann Slater, Ontario coordinator for the National Farmers Union, a representative from the Ontario Cattlemen’s Association and Henry Van Ankum, chair of Grain Farmers of Ontario, couldn’t be reached for comment. BF