Opinion

The federal-provincial-territorial (FPT) meeting concluded last week with a press conference hosted by Ontario’s Ag Minister, Ernie Hardeman, and the federal minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Marie Claude Bibeau. At the meeting, Bibeau presented the federal government’s offer to fund changes to AgriStability — but, according to the provinces, it was the first time they’d seen the proposal.

Provinces were told to go “back home” and consult on whether they would accept the federal government’s plan, which included removing the reference margin limit and boosting the payment rate from 70 to 80 per cent, on the condition that the provinces agree to the traditional 60/40 federal/provincial funding arrangement. Bibeau’s office figures the changes would increase AgriStability payments by 50 per cent.

Immediately after the meeting, Minister Bibeau was criticized for the last minute offer by Alberta Ag Minster Devin Dreeshen, who went as far to say that the federal government was “negotiating in bad faith.” Manitoba’s Blaine Pedersen has also been critical of the proposal’s timing.

Bibeau did not give the provinces a firm deadline on providing their answers, which has left the matter very open ended and added time to an already drawn out process. The BRM discussion has become a war of attrition that has some farm group stakeholders questioning their own resolve, especially groups that are aligned closely with provincial governments.

Without a firm deadline, the likelihood of any real changes happening to current business risk management programs seems unlikely, potentially pushing talks well into CAP 2.0 discussions for changes to programming starting in 2023.

It seems that none of the three Prairie provincial ag ministers have shown much urgency in talking to their finance colleagues about the matter, either.

Alberta Agriculture Minister Dreeshen had “not yet” discussed the matter with Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews as of Wednesday, December 2. Although Toews is the finance minister, he is a veteran of agriculture policy circles as he was heavily involved in Canadian Cattlemen’s Association for many years, serving as president from 2010 to 2012.

When asked about the timelines in Alberta for Minister Dreeshen to present to the treasury board, a spokesperson in his office said “it could be months.”

When I contacted Minister Toews’ office to get a firmer grasp on the process or timelines to present to Alberta’s financial decision-makers, we were told that was not public information.

Saskatchewan Agriculture minister David Marit says, in an email to RealAgriculture, “all provinces, including Saskatchewan, agreed to give the new federal proposal some consideration. We are working through our process to review the proposal and will discuss the specifics with cabinet colleagues in due course.”

In Manitoba, Ag Minister Blaine Pedersen has echoed the same critique as his Prairie colleagues.“We had no advance notice that this was coming out, so it’s up to the provinces and territories to go back to their respective jurisdictions to find out what the financial impact is,” he said, before saying he had no timeline for discussing the federal proposal with his province’s finance department.

In comparison, Ontario’s Minister of Agriculture, Ernie Hardeman, told RealAgriculture in an interview that he has already spoken with fellow members of cabinet and that the federal proposal is “something we can work with.”

It’s quite unclear why the Prairie ministers are not just saying “no” and being done with it. Instead they are dragging out the timeline, saying that analysis of the federal plan is required, but they have no positive comments on the proposal and no transparent timelines of cabinet approval will be provided.

There appears to be no give on behalf of the Prairie ag ministers to accept this federal government offer. Instead they say they are focusing on “fixing” the next framework for 2023.  These two options are being treated as if they are mutually exclusive of each other, but they don’t have to be.

With no real deadline for a response by the holdout Prairie Provinces, grain prices substantially higher than six months ago, and with provincial farm groups beginning to wonder if this is worth the fight, the probability of a temporary deal on business risk management program is fading very fast.

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