Throne Speech Recycles Ongoing Farm Programs

Last week’s Manitoba throne speech spoke a fair bit about agriculture but contained few actual new initiatives for farmers.

Instead, the speech to mark the opening of the new legislative session was mainly a rehash of programs already ongoing, according to observers.

“A lot of what was in the throne speech was actually reannouncements, not just for agriculture but for other sectors as well,” said Ian Wishart, president of Keystone Agricultural Producers.

The throne speech, Premier Greg Selinger’s first since assuming his post in October, mentioned government support programs, advance payments to hog producers and restoration projects, including increased drainage, for the Interlake.

But the only new agricultural initiative was a promise for increased support to organic producers and farmers’ markets (see related story, page 7).

Wishart, who farms at Portage la Prairie, also expressed disappointment that the speech offered no new support for financially stressed hog farmers.

He was also disappointed the province shows no sign of eliminating education taxes on farm buildings, a long-standing KAP demand.

But he was encouraged about drainage projects for the Interlake, which was hit hard by flooding from excessive rainfall this summer.

The throne speech said the province and Ottawa have spent over $40 million on flood restoration in the Interlake, including crop insurance, disaster assistance and various AgriRecovery programs.

Wishart said he stressed the need to spend all available money to Agriculture Minister Stan Struthers, and was heartened by the response.

“He was saying that their intention is to look at making maximum usage of those dollars – that there’s a need to restate some of the delivery mechanisms in those programs,” Wishart said.

The speech also promised revisions to the Sustainable Development Act, including “new policy tools (to) allow for sustainability agreements to be signed with outside organizations and incorporate the economic valuation of environmental goods and services.”

Wishart said he asked Struthers if this meant support for Alternative Land Use Services (ALUS), a KAP-led initiative which recently ran out of funding.

“The way he put it was, it gets you into the budget cycle.”

Doug Dobrowolski, Association of Manitoba Municipalities president, expressed disappointment that the speech did not promise more infrastructure spending for public works, including water, sewer and roads.

AMM says $11 billion is needed to upgrade and repair existing infrastructure in the province.

Dobrowolski worried the government will download services to municipalities in efforts to curtail spending.

“DOWNLOADING”

“We’re very concerned about any municipal gains that have been made. We’re hoping they’re not going to be lost,” he said. “We’ve made it quite clear that we can’t take any more downloading of services.”

That’s happening now with highway maintenance, said Dobrowolski.

“When rural residents go to Highways and ask to get something done, their reaction is, go see your councillor. Even if it’s a provincial road,” he said. “They’re just slowly stepping away.”

The throne speech warned the government may have to tighten its belt, saying the provincial economy is forecast to shrink by 0.2 per cent in 2009, compared to average growth of 2.7 per cent over the previous five years.

Wishart predicted it’ll be hard to get extra spending for existing programs, much less new ones.

“I don’t think (Selinger will) make commitments for anybody and anything these days. They’re quite concerned about declining revenues.”

But Wishart said he was heartened that Selinger appeared well briefed on agricultural issues during a meeting with KAP Nov. 24. [email protected]

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