Manitoba’s electoral map turned blue April 19, and that could help rural and agricultural Manitoba, according to the head of the province’s general farm organization.
Dan Mazier stressed that the Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) is non-partisan, but added that the new premier-elect’s rural roots growing up on a farm near Edwin likely won’t hurt the cause of agriculture.
“Brian Pallister, our premier-elect, is from rural Manitoba,” Dan Mazier, who farms near Justice, said in an interview during KAP’s quarterly advisory council meeting here April 20. “I think that really helps us out. His roots are there. I think that will bode well for anybody in rural Manitoba.”
Pallister and his PCs coasted to an easy victory election night, garnering the largest majority in the province’s history with 40 seats, including many former NDP rural strongholds in the Interlake and northwest. Among their victories were the Swan River seat of Ron Kostyshyn, the incumbent agriculture minister.
After 17 years in power Greg Selinger’s NDP was reduced to just 14 seats, and the Manitoba Liberals captured just three seats, a disappointing result as many party members were anticipating a breakthrough headed into the campaign.
While KAP never publicly complained that the previous NDP government, which held power for almost 17 years, was Winnipeg-centric, it was a common refrain in the hallways wherever farmers met.
Whether it was the almost 10-year ban on new hog barns, calendar restrictions on when fertilizer and manure could be spread, or Bipole III, rightly or wrongly many farmers felt Greg Selinger’s government didn’t understand their sector’s needs.
Pallister didn’t make a lot of promises, but Mazier said he’s optimistic ALUS (Alternate Land Use Services), which compensates farmers for conservation practices, will move ahead. Not only was it part of the PC’s platform, former KAP president and now Progressive Conservative MLA Ian Wishart was one of the program’s architects.
“It’s pretty impressive having Ian part of that,” Mazier said. “It was born here at KAP.”
Mazier noted other provinces are on board with the concept and it’s an already field-tested program that doesn’t require endless development before it can be implemented. But he also added providing the dollars is going to be the key.
“They will have to fund it,” he said. “Now, we’ll stress the need for increased funding for conservation districts so they can carry out important projects that provide ecological benefit to all Manitobans.”
Before voting day, KAP presented a long list of priorities and Mazier said the general farm organization intends to advance them with the new government. One is removing education taxes from farmland and buildings and funding schools through general revenue. That has been KAP policy for years, but for good measure delegates passed another resolution last week.
“We will ask for this to be done as soon as possible,” Mazier said. “Farmers have been paying a disproportionate share of taxes long enough and we’ll continue to stress this.”
The former government introduced a rebate program but then slapped a $5,000 limit on it. Mazier said KAP will push to lift the cap in the interim.
KAP also wants the new government to invest in agricultural innovation, research, infrastructure repairs, transparency, environmental programs and assistance for young farmers.
Manitoba’s investment in innovation has plunged to $10.1 million from $24.6 million over the past eight years, Mazier said.
“That’s only 0.18 per cent of Manitoba farm cash receipts,” he said. “We would like to see an investment equivalent to a full one per cent of farm cash receipts in research, innovation, and policy development.”
KAP will also be asking for programming to support farmers doing field trials and those experimenting with new crops and production methods, Mazier said.
“This will share the production risk associated with driving the industry forward,” he said.
KAP will push the government to fill vacant specialist positions within Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development.
To help young farmers KAP wants a “kick-start deposit” into new AgriInvest accounts, spread over the first five years. It also wants the AgriStability fee waived for the same period.
KAP wants premium credits for beginning farmers during the first five years in AgriInsurance.
“KAP will also be asking the province to assist young farmers who want to diversify their crop operations into livestock production,” Mazier said. “We want the government to provide incentives, as well as support to navigate the regulatory hurdles. Finally, we’ll be asking for increased funding for post-secondary agriculture students to help offset the costs associated with moving to urban areas to attend school.”
As for infrastructure, KAP wants a system so the public can report dangerous roads and bridges so there’s transparency around which repairs are done first.
The new government has promised to cut red tape and KAP wants its members to help in the process. Farmers can list the regulations they want streamlined or eliminated on KAP’s website.