Opinion

After what feels like a never-ending game of extra innings baseball, the standoff between the Prairie provinces and the federal government over changes to AgriStability needs to end.

All stakeholders are exhausted from the timeline-stretching, blown deadlines, fake outrage, and pure avoidance to find a solution to a rather simple issue.

At different times it has been easy to blame one side or the other, but we have reached a point of me slamming my head into the desk and yelling, “What the heck are we doing?”

Hyper-partisans will blame the other side, but I’m pointing the finger in all directions, and it’s time for all politicians involved at the Federal-Provincial-Territorial meeting set for Thursday, March 25, to bury political rhetoric positioning and do what is right for producers.

As requested by the Prairie provinces and granted by the Minister for Agriculture and Agri-Food Marie-Claude Bibeau, there is a Federal, Provincial, Territorial meeting on Thursday of this week. The excuses are over, it’s time to do what is right for producers and close this attempt at reform.

Is the federal minister’s proposal a total fix for AgriStability? Absolutely not, but with all provinces on board except for the three Prairie provinces, clearly the majority of ministers feel it’s an adequate compromise to buy time until the next framework is created for 2023.

Minister Bibeau clearly sees this as an opportunity to claim a victory if she can get the Prairie provinces on board.

Minister Bibeau has brought in Jim Carr, Special Advisor to the Prairies, as a designated hitter for unclear reasons other than to appear as an “all hands on deck” approach by the feds.  At this point, Carr’s involvement has not moved the needle on the Prairie’s stonewalling.

When asked last week at the joint Bibeau/Carr press conference about whether Carr had talked to the Prairie premiers, he said he had talked to ministers he “had a relationship with,” but not any of the premiers. To me, this would be one of the benefits of having Minister Carr involved in the first place. He has been minister of trade and minister of energy, which would have allowed for a relationship with all three Prairie premiers.

As of today, I’m told Carr will not be attending the FPT meeting.

The Prairie provinces have spoken with and submitted follow-up questions to the federal minister over the winter, although when Minister David Marit’s office in Saskatchewan was asked what the questions were, they responded, “we are not ready at this time to disclose the questions that have gone unanswered.”

Meanwhile, Minister Bibeau has repeatedly given soft deadlines for a response from the Prairie Provinces, which resulted in her bluff being called at least three times.

This lack of firm deadlines and no consequence has been one of the negotiation mistakes by the federal government in the last five months.

In the above mentioned Bibeau/Carr press conference, Minister Bibeau gave a new (firmer?) deadline of April 30th, which is also the 2021 AgriStability sign up deadline.

Although the three Prairie provinces are holding out, it does not appear to be some “western pact” being coordinated behind the scenes. The increased annual payouts are a sticky issue for the three, but the $18 million the changes will cost is being treated like it’s $18 billion.

Last week we saw provincial farm groups in Alberta finally step out and encourage their Prairie ag ministers to close the deal. Saskatchewan and Manitoba farm groups have been doing the same.

In reality, real patience has been shown by the other provinces to publicly speak out against the political shenanigans being showcased by their provincial peers. For an improved BRM program in Ontario, B.C., and Quebec to be held up by this stand-off the past five months would frustrate most, yet the group has kept quiet.

Back in November, Ontario’s Minister of Agriculture Ernie Hardeman was my guest on RealAg Radio. In that interview,  Hardeman said he does not believe that Ontario producers can wait two or three years to solve the problems that were created a year ago or two years ago. “The current program is not working for producers and they have not been signing up because they don’t believe the likelihood of a payout. That the payout is not good enough to cover the cost of hiring a consultant to fill out the paperwork. We need a short-term solution instead of waiting two years to make the new program,” he said.

I agree fully with Minister Hardeman that an improvement to the current AgriStability program and working on a new framework for 2023 can both happen at the same time.

At the end of the day, the changes are not perfect, but will serve the purpose of improved BRM, and I’m confident that we can achieve bipartisan consensus and allow for the start of talks for the 2023 framework.

It’s time to end the stalling and finger-pointing, and for the benefit of farmers and ranchers across Canada, it’s time to close this ballgame.

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