Federal budget hurts more than cut employees

With the recently announced 2012 budget or more specifically cuts, there are many more affected Canadians than the federal government implies. The PFRA branch is no longer a government agency and within a few short years will cease to exist.

We are a rural family living the dream, or were up until April 11 when we had the rug pulled out from under us. We are one of the affected families in the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration.

Not only did the federal government and its agencies not give prior warning, they have now left us in limbo. We have received no official date of termination, only a vague reference to this year or next year.

Was PFRA eliminated because it is a cost-recovery agency that runs a profit (or close to it) or was it wiped out based on the government ideal that to progress they (the government) cannot run businesses. Progress or not, it sure feels like purgatory to us.

My husband is a pasture manager in the PFRA system. His job is a professional “cowboy.”

As a young man he wanted to live the dream of riding horses and working cattle. In today’s technological age, there aren’t many such opportunities.

So he sought out a position in the PFRA system. He worked as a seasonal rider for many years, striving to prove himself and his competency. He worked hard to move up the ranks to finally become a manager.

This type of job may seem trivial or out of date to many, but to him it was worth its weight in gold. Four years ago, when my husband was promoted to pasture manager, we moved to an area in Manitoba unfamiliar to us. The kids were enrolled in a new school, and I had to find a new job.

We all live his job 365 days a year; inquiries come 24-7. This is more than a job, this is a way of life. On weekends and summer holidays, our kids are right along with him. If the cattle break fence on the weekend, it’s all of us rounding them up.

If a water system stops working on a weekend, we can’t wait for Monday. Not a day goes by that someone doesn’t phone or stop by asking about programs, rates, pasture availability or a hundred other questions. Yes, my husband was the only member of our family on payroll, but we all played a part in the success of his job.

Twenty-six out of the 87 pastures on the eastern Prairies are in Manitoba. Each of these pastures has a manager living in a rented home on site. Many pastures have housing for the riders as well, so they too will need homes.

Pasture workers provide their own horses and tack. So in essence, each is a “farmer” but without the personal farm or livestock, as owning more than 12 head of cattle is frowned upon and considered a conflict of interest. Those of us whom were planning to spend another 20 to 30 years working, are left with no job and no home.

Their equity was in their animals and equipment and all that equity is worth next to nothing. Each employee on average owns four horses, and all the necessary equipment.

A conservative estimate is there will be 75 people in Manitoba and 300 horses unemployed. Horses previously valued at $3,000 are now worth $700 as the market will be flooded. Related riding equipment, per employee, valued previously at $10,000 minimum is now worth “best offer.” Now quadruple that number to encompass Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

How are these former employees supposed to go to their bank, apply for mortgages to purchase housing and property to carry on their lives?

I don’t see many ads in any paper looking for a hard-working, honest country boy. Retraining is their only option. We would have appreciated fair treatment, advance notice and proper compensation, for all we sacrificed.

Now with his job loss, we are now looking for a new home. He is looking for a new job. Heck, I may be looking also, depending on where affordable housing can be found. The kids get to move to a new school.

We hope to find a place where we can keep some of our precious animals. How do you say “goodbye” to an animal that has worked alongside of you for the past 13 years, helping you earn your wage, when he is past his prime, blind in one eye, and the only buyer would be a slaughterhouse.

Banks don’t loan out money to hopes and dreams. The next few months would be easier to take if they did.

— Tina Caumartin is married to a community pasture manager. She lives near Narcisse.

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