Panned by critics as a stand-pat plan, and short on plans to improve farm income, the Manitoba government’s throne speech Nov. 20 did draw some credit for plans to encourage farm and rural development.
The NDP government’s speech, delivered by Lt.Gov. John Harvard, did note plans for a new Sustainable Agricultural Program as well as a new Wetlands Protection and Restoration Initiative meant to offer incentives for landowners to manage wetlands on their property.
The wetlands plan builds on initiatives in the Alternative Land Use Services (ALUS) program. Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP), a longtime proponent of ALUS, called that plan a “positive step” and is also “eager” for more details on a sustainable agriculture program.
The wetlands plan “builds on research that shows the enormous value of wetlands for biodiversity, for retaining nutrients, for regulating Prairie water tables and for reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” Harvard said.
“Wetlands in river deltas help to filter out excess nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, and studies have indicated that restoring the Netley-Libau Marsh could reduce nutrient loading in Lake Winnipeg by six per cent.”
The sustainable agriculture plan, meanwhile, is expected to be launched this year as part of the agenda laid out in the province’s “Kyoto and Beyond” plan, the province said.
But critics also called for improvements to farm supports. Provincial Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard said such supports are needed “in a time of crisis stemming from the implementation on Bill 17” – the moratorium on hog barn development from the Red River Valley east – as well as “high feed and fuel prices and inadequate farm programs.”
The Progressive Conservative opposition also criticized the lack of support for farmers following Bill 17’s implementation, as well as the lack of a plan to address the U. S. government’s implementation of mandatory country-of-origin labelling (COOL) back in late September.
The province also pledged a new Food Safety Act, for which Keystone Agricultural Producers vice-president Robert McLean said the group looks forward to working with the province, both to ensure continued consumer confidence in Canada’s farm products and to ensure farmers don’t bear “unfair costs related to carrying out food safety initiatives.”
KAP also noted a priority in the speech on science and innovation projects and “looks forward to seeing agricultural research targeted.”
Plans to upgrade highways were also viewed as a “positive step” but McLean, who farms at Manitou, called for more infrastructure investment in Manitoba’s rural transportation networks, especially rural roads.
The province specifically noted upgrades for Highways 1, 6, 10, 59 (north of Winnipeg) and 75 (from Winnipeg to the U. S. border) and work to begin on a new all-weather road up the east side of Lake Winnipeg. It also pledged improved roads for “single-access” communities.
KAP also supported the province’s continued commitment to the provincial “inland port” initiative, CentrePort Canada, as a means to increase trade. Its plans include infrastructure upgrades for the 20,000-acre CentrePort area, plus upgrades for its transportation corridors.
The speech also pledged a credit guarantee program will be created to assist “non-agricultural rural enterprises,” as a companion to such supports for farmers under the operating credit guarantee program.
The province said it will also work with Manitoba Hydro and Ottawa to back development of “emerging renewables” such as wind power.
Gerrard retorted “government inaction” to date has already caused wind power projects to relocate to North Dakota. Citing the “groundswell” of interest and activity in the Killarney area, he said “we could have used investment at this particular juncture… (but) now the opportunity is being lost.”
The province also pledged to ban new logging in provincial parks on a “go-forward” basis and to introduce a plan to phase out existing logging “that has been taking place in our parks for many decades.”
Legislation introduced in the previous session to regulate dog breeders will also be reintroduced, the province said.