Bill Campbell wants a straight answer on where the Manitoba government stands on AgriStability.
“I’ve been through various cycles in agriculture, but I have also appreciated the truth and honesty far more than delaying and not being able to respond to the situation with all sincerity,” the president of Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) said Jan. 26 while commenting on the Manitoba government’s position on proposed changes to AgriStability.
“If the three western provinces are not willing to participate in the changes for AgriStability… then just let us know and then we will adjust. I guess there will always be somebody farming the land but will it be Bill Gates or Bill Campbell?”
Why it matters: Farm leaders say they need clarity on the province’s intentions.
In a Jan. 22 letter obtained by the Manitoba Co-operator, Pedersen wrote to KAP and 19 other Manitoba farm groups that federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau’s two proposed changes to AgriStability — scrapping the reference margin limit and boosting program coverage to 80 per cent from 70 — would not fix the flawed farm income support program.
Pedersen was responding to a Dec. 17 letter from KAP and Manitoba’s other farm groups. Their letter was sent “to strongly encourage” the Manitoba government to endorse Bibeau’s AgriStability improvements.
“Although the proposed changes fall short of those that we have been requesting since the AgriStability program was decimated under Growing Forward 2, they are at least a step in the right direction and, we believe, represent an acceptable compromise,” the letter, obtained by the Manitoba Co-operator, states. “Removing the reference margin limit will help to simplify the program and effectively lower the payment trigger for lower-cost operations. The increase in coverage from 70 per cent to 80 per cent will make the program more effective for those who suffer a significant loss.
“The approval and implementation of these changes, without compromising other risk management programs will support Manitoba’s farmers to a satisfactory level through to the end of the current policy framework so that we can then focus on the longer-term changes for the next policy framework.”
Pedersen’s letter never comes out and says ‘no’ to the farmers’ request, but leaves the impression he doesn’t support their request either.
“The proposed short-term changes do not address many of the outstanding issues associated with the program,” he wrote.
In contrast he notes there’s support to replace AgriStability.
“During an engagement session with industry stakeholders, feedback was provided on a number of proposed options to replace AgriStability in 2023,” his letter says. “Although the development of these long-term options is ongoing, industry supported the continued development of these potential alternatives, including more insurance options to cover risk.”
Even though Pedersen’s letter suggests he will not sign on to Bibeau’s proposals, his office stated in an email Jan. 27 “… Manitoba has not made a final decision yet. When we do that will be formally communicated to Minister Bibeau and the federal government.”
Asked to respond, KAP said in an email: “If the Government of Manitoba is not considering this proposal, then it needs to communicate this and deal with the fallout.”
The statement also said every Manitoba farm group, representing every farmer and every sector, in every corner of the province, supports the proposed changes.
“These groups made a conscious decision to communicate directly with Minister Pedersen in December 2020 to support him in taking this proposal to the Government of Manitoba,” the statement says. “It was disheartening to receive a response that did not refer to this fulsome support. Rather, the response, which came more than a month later, referred to previously discussed shortcomings around predictability and timeliness, and a blind poll that showed that stakeholders need more information to assess other longer-term proposals on the table. What was not on the table at that industry stakeholder engagement session to which the minister’s letter referred, were the proposed immediate AgriStability changes. That is what the letter from farm groups to Minister Pedersen addressed, and that is what he has not acknowledged.”
Pedersen’s office said Jan. 27 he was unavailable to comment.
He spoke at KAP’s online annual meeting Jan. 26, listing many of the Manitoba government’s policies that have helped farmers, including:
- A one per cent cut in the provincial sales tax.
- Eliminating the sales tax from home and property insurance and legal and accounting fees.
- Rebates of automobile insurance.
- Funds to help people get Class 1 drivers’ licences.
- A $150-million investment in conservation trust funds.
- Investing $1 million in a post-secondary trust for 4-H’ers.
- Enhanced forage and fruit growers’ insurance programs.
- A 20 per cent rebate on Crown land leases in 18 municipalities hit by consecutive droughts.
- $1.8 million in funding for projects, including KAP’s Young Farmers Program, through the federal-provincial Canadian Agricultural Partnership Ag Action Program.
- COVID-19 aid programs.
- Starting the phase-out of education taxes on all property, including farms.
Pedersen never spoke about AgriStability or KAP’s request for the Manitoba government to endorse Bibeau’s proposed changes.
Following his address Pedersen didn’t answer questions from KAP members or reporters.
Campbell said he’s frustrated with how Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta — whose support for Bibeau’s changes are seen as necessary — have dragged out the process.
“We’ve been dealing with this for a while,” he said in an interview Jan. 26.
The federal government is offering to put up 60 per cent of the money needed to help make AgriStability a better program and provinces like Manitoba haven’t agreed to provide their 40 per cent, Campbell said.
“To jeopardize that assistance and new federal money I think really sets the tone of this (Manitoba) government’s appreciation of agriculture,” he said.
In 2019-20 the Manitoba government spent $34 million on AgriStability. Pedersen has said the proposed changes would cost the provincial government $15 million more a year. That’s just 0.1 per cent of the provincial budget, Campbell said.
Agriculture has been a strong part of Canada’s economy and will play a big role in jump-starting it post-COVID-19, he added.
But for agriculture to thrive long term it needs support programs that will offset drops in farm incomes that occur due to weather and markets outside farmers’ control, he said.
“I understand the (financial) pressures the provinces are under, but their decisions to walk away from new federal money is going to affect ag policy in this country for future years,” he said.
“This opportunity will not come about again. That’s what we have been led to believe.”