No deal, so far, on AgriStability enhancements

Agriculture ministers from across Canada are still working on reaching a consensus on possible changes to the AgriStability program leading up to the conclusion of the annual federal-provincial-territorial (FPT) ministers meeting on Friday.

Ministers met virtually to kick off the annual FPT meeting last Friday, where they discussed a wide range of topics, with a focus on amendments to the AgriStability business risk management program for farmers.

On Monday, ministers and their deputies were invited to participate in a virtual presentation from the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, Grain Growers of Canada, the Canadian Pork Council, and the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, in which the leaders of the four national organizations urged the ministers to move ahead with long-sought changes to AgriStability.

The ministers will be reconvening for their final virtual session on Friday, after which it’s anticipated they will issue a joint communiqué and possibly host a press conference.

The ministers and their staff are, for the most part, avoiding negotiating in public, but sources familiar with the meeting tell RealAgriculture that the federal government and several provinces, including Ontario, Quebec, and B.C., are on board with moving the AgriStability payment trigger from 70 per cent to 85 per cent while maintaining a 60/40 funding split between the federal and provincial governments. Moving the trigger back to 85 per cent has been a longstanding request of farm groups, including the four that presented together on Monday.

Any changes require two-thirds approval, and sources say Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta, citing fiscal constraints, have not been willing to agree to the terms for increasing the payment trigger from 70 to 85 per cent. Some provinces, including Saskatchewan, have proposed a temporary 90/10 federal/provincial split on the increased cost of the program, while Manitoba’s ag minister has previously indicated he’s not in favour of any changes that increase the price tag for his government.

As of Wednesday, the federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau has not been willing to budge on the 60/40 cost sharing formula.

“We are hopeful the federal government on Friday’s call will come back with a proposal that is acceptable or something we can work with,” said Saskatchewan Ag Minister David Marit in an interview with farm broadcaster Jim Smalley that aired on Regina radio station CKRM on Monday. “Obviously if there are any changes to the BRM programs at all, the prairie provinces are hit the hardest (in terms of cost), and Saskatchewan being hit the hardest of all the jurisdictions in Canada.”

From her perspective, Bibeau says she’s still working on “finding common ground for action between my provincial and territorial colleagues.”

“As I have said from the beginning, improving BRM programs, starting with AgriStability, is a top priority for me and our government,” says Bibeau, in a statement shared with RealAgriculture on Wednesday. “I am working to build a national consensus where each jurisdiction contributes their share and programs are fair for different sectors.”

As for who should drive that consensus-building process, Grain Growers of Canada executive director Erin Gowriluk said the federal minister has a role, but that farm groups expect all the ministers to be engaged.

“It’s everyone’s responsibility. If you have some provinces who say ‘okay. we’re onside with what sector stakeholders are looking for, this is an ask we can support, if there are other provinces who can’t, tell us why that may be the case and let’s see what we can do together to alleviate some of those challenges so we can get everybody a little closer to the middle,'” she offered, as an example, in discussing the AgriStability negotiations as part of RealAg Live on Tuesday afternoon.

While the ministers won’t be lobbying each other in the hallways or elevator as they would at an in-person FPT meeting, farm groups are urging them to work out their differences in the time between virtual sessions.

“Hopefully they’re taking this time to work to drive to consensus so we can have a favourable outcome, with respect to BRM, at Friday’s meeting,” noted Gowriluk.

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