Ministers of agriculture from federal, provincial and territorial (FPT) governments across Canada discussed how to respond to the drought and wildfires in Western Canada on Thursday, in what may have been their final meeting before a federal election, if one is called in the coming weeks.

The ministers also continued their discussions on changes to business risk management (BRM) programs, concerns about grocery retailer fees, and prevention of African Swine Fever during the meeting, which was held via video conference.

The ministers are slated to meet in-person for the first time in over a year on September 8-10 in Guelph, Ont., assuming a federal election is not called before then. If the writ is dropped in the meantime, the next FPT meeting would likely be delayed until after a new federal cabinet is announced.

That meant the ministers needed to get on the same page on Thursday to get the wheels in motion on a potential disaster relief program for producers affected by drought. And it appears they did.

“With a federal election looming, Alberta received verbal commitment from Ottawa that a joint AgriRecovery program will be initiated to support Prairie producers affected by drought conditions prior to an election,” said Alberta Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen, in a statement following the meeting.

“The details of an AgriRecovery program are still being developed with industry and we will work with our provincial and federal counterparts to ensure that Alberta’s farmers and ranchers are supported,” continued Dreeshen.

Federal minister Marie-Claude Bibeau described Thursday’s meeting as “collaborative and constructive.”

The federal government is “prepared to receive any formal submissions for AgriRecovery from provincial governments, which are needed to trigger the process,” said Bibeau, noting AgriRecovery is funded on a 60-40 basis between the federal and provincial governments.

The ministers from drought-affected provinces directed their officials to organize a meeting “soon” to discuss an AgriRecovery program in more detail, she said.

Bibeau also urged the provinces affected by drought to invoke the late participation provision for AgriStability, and reiterated the federal offer to boost the AgriStability compensation rate to 80 per cent:

“I also urged Prairie governments to match the federal offer to raise AgriStability compensation rate to 80 per cent,” said Bibeau — an offer that has been on the table since November 2020, on the condition there’s consensus among the provinces to chip in 40 per cent of the funding.

The ministers also received a report from the “FPT Working Group on Retail Fees” that was created last November to look at the issue of fees imposed by grocery retailers on suppliers. In response, the ministers said they “called on industry to lead a collaborative process to develop broad consensus around a concrete proposal to improve transparency, predictability, and respect for the principles of fair dealing” and have asked for an update on the industry-led process before the end of the year.

Meanwhile, Manitoba’s representative at the ag ministerial level changed while the meeting was happening on Thursday. Former Manitoba ag minister Ralph Eichler was reappointed to the post by Premier Brian Pallister, replacing Blaine Pedersen, who served as the province’s ag minister for the last two years.

Editor’s note: this story has been updated several times with new information and quotes. More to come.

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