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Accountability or wonky accounting?

By Laura Rance

The Canadian Forage and Grassland Association recently wrote to Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz expressing concerns about the state of forage breeding within the federal department. (See the letter elsewhere on this page.)

If the word on the street is correct, those concerns are well founded. It appears that the Brandon Research Station, the home of beef, forage and nutrient management research for the eastern Prairies, will be hit hard by a new wave of unannounced cuts to the federal civil service put into motion last week.

It’s all hearsay at press time, because even as word leaked out and unions representing the people affected confirmed the numbers, the federal government was refusing to own up to anything.

Employees — both researchers and support staff whose programs are being gutted — are forbidden from talking to anyone about what is going on, least of all journalists. Official spokespeople for the federal civil service and the minister’s office say they can’t comment due to privacy concerns. We suspect it has more to do with keeping bad news quiet.

Cultivated forages are Canada’s biggest crop by acreage. Forage is a $5-billion industry in Canada and it provides the underpinnings to the $11-billion beef and dairy sectors. The public good it delivers through environmental benefits are immeasurable. Public investment in this kind of research is recouped many times over.

We recognize that responsible government is about making tough choices. But accountable government is about taking ownership of those decisions, not rolling them out in secrecy. The public has a right to know what is taking place and why it is being done.

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