OTTAWA — It’s not often that Conservative and Liberal governments join forces. But the Ontario and federal governments did just that to urge the other provinces last month to accept a proposed deal on AgriStability.
Last month, federal ag minister Marie-Claude Bibeau and Ontario ag minister Ernie Hardeman put out a statement adding joint pressure to the holdouts, while acknowledging that the program isn’t exactly what everyone wanted. Improving the risk management programs “is a top priority for our governments,” the joint statement read. “Farmers have shown their resiliency during COVID-19, however many could still use the added help that these short-term changes could provide. We have an opportunity to act now, to offer them increased support. It’s time to get it done.”
The much-maligned risk management program was top-of-mind at the provincial ag ministers’ meetings last fall. Fixing the least-used program seemed like a no-brainer but the ministers could not agree on a solution and walked away without a deal.
But they left with a two-part offer from Ottawa and Ontario bought in because it increases the payout. The proposal also removes the reference margin limit which limits payouts.
The Prairies have been holding out on the new deal because of the cost. The program splits funding 60-40 between the feds and the provinces. The Prairie provinces wanted Ottawa to shoulder 90 per cent of program payouts as the program will be most used by Prairie farmers.
Ontario Federation of Agriculture president Peggy Brekveld noted that the deal on the table isn’t perfect. Raising the trigger-point for payments is another ask of Ontario agriculture but the OFA supports the deal as it is, she said. “The feds and the province of Ontario are moving in the right direction and we appreciate the work that’s been done on this file.”
But the Grain Farmers of Ontario is not on board. Grain Farmers chair Markus
Haerle said the deal on the table “will not make any difference to any
producers here.” The 70 per cent margin trigger (which the government
has not proposed changing) is simply too low; producers need it at 85
per cent at least, he said. The livestock sector can benefit from the
deal Hardeman and Bibeau are pushing, but the grain sector won’t. The
livestock industry has large enough price swings that a 70 per cent
margin works. The grain sector doesn’t have those swings. “Have we ever seen a 30 per cent swing in grain pricing? It’s very unlikely that’ll happen.” If the feds won’t budge on adjusting the trigger, “we need the provincial government to draw money here and get money out through programming that works for all sectors,” he said.