It was supposed to be the site of a new, federally inspected cattle slaughter facility — one that would buoy a flagging industry in the wake of BSE.
But now Manitoba’s opposition Tories say a property at 663 Marion Street in Winnipeg has been sold for half its value as the Manitoba Cattle Enhancement Council winds down its operations.
“Our information says that they sold it for about $650,000 unconditionally,” said Blaine Pedersen, MLA for Midlands. He added that the asking price had been $1.2 million — the same amount as the property was purchased for in 2008.
The provincial government wouldn’t confirm that figure when contacted last week.
“At the purchaser’s request, the sale price has been kept confidential until the sale is finalized, and therefore we cannot comment directly about the numbers,” said a spokesman for Manitoba’s minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development.
Where money from the sale ends up is of particular interest to Heinz Reimer, president of the Manitoba Beef Producers, who has more than a few questions about where producers’ checkoff dollars went.
“That’s been our concern all along, we haven’t gotten full disclosure on where that money went,” said Reimer. “And that has been a concern for Manitoba beef producers because we put a fair amount of money into it and we’ve never been privy to where that money went to.”
After purchasing the defunct pork-processing plant six years ago, the MCEC began to redesign it for cattle. Media reports at that time indicated it was expected to employ approximately 80 people by 2010.
That never happened.
“They purchased the property at 663 Marion Street for $1.2 million, they then spent $793,000 on plant redesign and renovations, then they spent $237,000 on demolition, because they decided they would build a new building,” said Pedersen. “So why did they spend almost $800,000 and then decide this building isn’t going to work and tear it down?… This is not prudent planning.”
The MLA said he obtained the figures through a freedom of information request, but that detailed breakdowns haven’t been available.
The province disagrees with that assessment.
“Every aspect of MCEC operations has been open to the public,” said Minister Ron Kostyshyn’s spokesman. “Mr. Pedersen is not only hiding this fact, he’s making up numbers.”
No paper trail
Pedersen said that the information that is publicly available is lacking.
“The financial statement is online, but that doesn’t tell you where money is spent, it just tells you how much is spent,” he said, describing the information as “pretty vague.”
Categories such as project management list expenses at $1.1 million, but don’t break down costs any further, Pedersen said.
Reimer said his organization passed a resolution at its last annual general meeting aimed at acquiring more information on how the MCEC money was spent.
The Manitoba Beef Producers began calling for the elimination of the $2-per-head levy in 2011, but it wasn’t until September 2013 that collection was halted.
In an emailed statement, the province noted that the “producer levy was never mandatory” and that $2.4 million was returned to producers who requested it. In total, just over $8 million was collected through the levy.
However, had the federal government provided the $11 million it has promised through the Slaughter Improvement Program, provincial officials said the planned slaughter plant would have gone ahead. Instead, those federal funds went to an expansion of Hylife Foods’ pork-processing facility at Neepawa.
Hogwash, said Pedersen.
“If you talk to the feds, the reason the feds pulled out is because the plant was not viable; they didn’t have a viable plan,” he said. “It’s very easy for the province to blame the feds for this, but in the meantime $12 million has disappeared out of cattlemen’s and taxpayers’ pockets with nothing to show for it.”
Frieda Krpan, a producer at St. Laurent, is the MCEC chairperson, but she declined to comment on the issue, referring queries to MCEC’s lawyer.