Editor’s Take: Passing the buck

At some point or other, most of us have received a non-vitation.

That’s the ‘invitation’ to an event designed to assuage the guilt of the host while making it crystal clear at the same time we’d actually be as welcome as a red-headed stepchild.

‘Oh, hey Charlie. Yeah, that’s right, I’m having a little get-together this weekend. You’re totally welcome, of course, but just so you know, your ex-wife and worst enemy are both going to be there too. So if you’re OK with that… ‘

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It’s in this category we file provincial Agriculture and Resource Development Minister Blaine Pedersen’s ‘invitation’ to participate in AgriRecovery for cattle producers facing COVID backlogs.

His pitch to two of the province’s largest producer advocacy groups can largely be paraphrased to something like this:

‘Yeah, of course we can participate in AgriRecovery. How’s $7 million sound? Our share would be $2.8 million. Of course, we’d have to take that out of the provincial contribution to AgriStability… but you wouldn’t mind that, would you?’

To the credit of the Keystone Agricultural Producers and Manitoba Beef Producers, nobody appears to have burst out laughing at the suggestion when it was first presented.

But it appears the two groups did lend the idea about as much consideration as it was due — which is to say about as much as one pays attention to a crazy uncle’s ranting about jet contrails and conspiracies at the holiday dinner table.

Why Pedersen thought this idea would fly is perplexing. After all, everyone loves to take money from their right pocket, put it in their left pocket, and pretend they’ve suddenly got more, right? It’s equally akin to the old saying that you can’t make your blanket longer by cutting a foot off the top of it and sewing it back on the bottom.

What’s even more confounding, however, is the way he’s approached these key stakeholder groups after his initial pitch.

As our Alexis Stockford reports, he then went away, promising a revised program, only to institute total radio silence on the topic. Then, four months later, a much smaller $2.5-million program funded entirely by the federal government was announced.

Nobody is quite certain this is a national precedent, but neither can anyone we’ve spoken to recall an AgriRecovery program that didn’t involve a provincial contribution.

Now it appears Pedersen feels this is somehow the fault of these producer groups.

“We would’ve liked to have contributed to this program,” Pedersen said, adding that a proposal to that effect was presented to industry groups and it was “rejected.”

Rejected is a strong term and implies that the parties declining the offer are to blame.

The truth of the matter is that, even for a province with significant fiscal challenges, $2.8 million isn’t a lot of money, though it would be significant to those farmers who need it.

Taking a look at the recently announced provincial budget, we can find many much larger expenditures being made.

There’s $160 million in education ‘capital projects’ which appears to be budget speak for building new schools in Winnipeg’s far-flung urban sprawl while inner-city schools are closing.

There’s $250 million for a health-care program dubbed the “Provincial Clinical and Preventive Services Plan.”

Going further down the list, there’s $45 million for climate resiliency projects, $101 million in funding for the Lake Manitoba outlet channels, $21.8 million for the City of Winnipeg’s North End Water Pollution Control Centre and $15.8 million for water and sewage facilities for municipalities outside Winnipeg, just to name some of the highlights from the government’s own budgetary propaganda.

That doesn’t even touch the promised (long-term) $2 billion in ‘tax relief’ that would come straight out of government coffers.

It’s also worth noting that somehow Alberta and Saskatchewan both came up with the required cash to kick in for their share of similar programs.

This is not to say that those other expenditures are unworthy, only that the decision not to fund AgriRecovery as a province was purely one of priorities. Helping the province’s cattle producers simply was less of a priority.

This is understandable. Setting priorities is what we elect governments to do every four years. What’s less acceptable is a clumsy attempt to pin the outcome somewhere else, rather than simply admitting it wasn’t in the budget.

Manitoba’s farm families, and their advocacy organizations, might not have loved that message. But they would have understood it.

About the author

Editor

Gord Gilmour

Gord Gilmour is Editor of the Manitoba Co-operator.

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