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The Last Straw – for Aug. 5, 2010

Cattle producers whose pastures are flooded and forage producers whose stands are drowned may well be in need of assistance this year, just like producers of annual crops.

However, there are good reasons why the province should be reluctant to comply with a request to waive Crown lease fees to ranchers whose grazing lands are flooded.

One of those would be fairness. If you rent something, whether that is a movie or land, the rental fee applies whether or not you were able to use it. Producers who lease land should not be compensated at the expense of farmers who have invested in buying their own.

But that’s not what a provincial spokesperson said in response to the request from Westlake-area ranchers struggling to find feed for their cattle as well as coping with higher levels of foot rot because there is no dry place for their herds to hang out.

The inane response the province trotted out through an unnamed spokesperson is that cancelling fees could result in retaliation by Manitoba’s trading partners.

“Waiving these fees risks trade action against Manitoba for providing a direct subsidy to a specific sector,” she said. “We do not want Manitoba’s producers to suffer as a result of countervail.”

The threat of countervail is routinely used as the reason why governments can’t or won’t help a sector. Yet if things keep going the way they are, there won’t be much of a cattle industry here worth countervailing.

Governments apparently found a way to assist crop farmers this year without running the risk of trade sanctions. We suspect, however, that unless there is a serious commitment improving the resiliency of the annual-crop farming system, these kind of prop-ups will continue to be necessary on an ongoing basis.

The sustainability of grazing and forage, meanwhile, is indisputable. This land and resource use has been part of the Prairie ecosystem for centuries. Fragile lands in this province need more perennial crops, not less; cattle are a means of harvesting those crops.

Excluding forage producers whose perennial fields have been drowned out from the Canada-Manitoba Excess Moisture Assistance Program (CMEMAP) and taking a “wait-and-see” approach on assistance to cattle farmers facing feed shortages is a short-sighted strategy.

Both levels of government say they want more diversification in agriculture. Yet the structure of assistance programs sends the opposite message.

These producers are faced with making decisions now about their future. If governments are not going to help, they need to say so. If they are, they need to say how.

KEEP THE CENSUS

If you go to the Statistics Canada community profile section of its website and type in your home town and province, you can learn all sorts of things about our collective persona.

These profiles do more than tell you how many we are, or our age or heritage. They provide a general picture of how we fit into our communities, and how our community fits into the rest of the province and broader Canadian society.

It helps us understand who we are and how we are changing. These profiles are generated from data collected by the

national census Statistics Canada conducts every five years. The way the system has worked, every household was required to complete the short census form. An additional 20 per cent of households are required to complete the so-called long form, which collects much more detail.

As we’ve heard, that’s about to change. While the short census form will still be mandatory, the long form is to be made voluntary and sent to one-third of the households nationally.

This raises questions over the quality of data collected and how well it reflects the general population. Even by increasing the number of surveys sent out, it is unlikely a voluntary census will attract the same response rate as the mandatory one. And the responses will be disproportionate. People from lower-income households, or whose first language is something other than English or French, are less likely to respond.

This has special significance for rural folk, who already have problems maintaining their visibility at the policy table.

A voluntary survey cannot replace the existing model for collecting useful data on Canadians.

If the concern is protecting people’s privacy, a more meaningful action would be stopping private sector companies from harvesting personal information from people without their knowledge through their use of the Internet. Companies are now capable of generating remarkably accurate – and potentially lucrative – profiles of individual computer users based on their Internet travels.

Those of us who have completed the long survey may grumble about it, but at least we know what we’re providing, and to whom. [email protected]

About the author

Vice-President of Content

Laura Rance

Laura Rance is vice-president of content for Glacier FarmMedia. She can be reached at [email protected]

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