March 9, 2009
Guelph, ON, and Longueuil, QC (March 6, 2009) - Grain and oilseed farmers have been left out in the cold by the Harper Conservatives’ agricultural flexibility program.
Last week, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz held roundtable discussions with his hand-picked participants, giving the illusion that the Harper Government is consulting with farmers. But incredibly, Minister Ritz will not be meeting with any farmers from Quebec.
Minister Ritz’s March 4, 2009, press release lauded the agricultural flexibility program: "’Farmers told us they need an agricultural flexibility program and this Government is investing $500 million in that initiative through our Economic Action Plan,’ said Minister Ritz.”
In fact, Budget 2009 allocated $190 million for an “agricultural flexibility program” delivered over five years. The remaining $310 million would come from other undisclosed sources.
This failed to deliver on the Conservative Government's promise to work with the provinces to provide effective funding of regional programs. The Budget announcement specifically excludes Business Risk Management (BRM) programs from support by the agriculture flexibility fund, which effectively denies federal support for important safety net programs.
“The Harper Conservatives have set up a $500-million fund for a program that no one asked for and will not do much to help family farmers in their time of need,” said William Van Tassel, president of the Ontario-Quebec Grain Farmers Coalition. “Our group put forward a very credible, affordable effective solution called AgriFlex, which could be used to help a range of regional programs. The Conservatives claimed the name, but didn’t deliver the program.”
Mr. Van Tassel, a Quebec farmer, was especially disappointed that Minister Ritz didn’t include any farmers from that province in his so-called consultations.
“Quite frankly, I don’t understand why Minister Ritz is holding these consultations when he’s already announced the program and specifically excluded programs that are desperately needed at this difficult economic time,” he said. “This is just a window-dressing exercise, and farmers will not be fooled into taking it seriously.
“We have attempted to engage the Minister with this issue and have been rebuffed at every turn If Minister Ritz truly cared to consult with farmers, he would have done so before the program was announced.”
Farmers were not looking for a bailout in Budget 2009, like many other business sectors. They were looking for the Harper Conservatives to fulfill their campaign pledge to become full partners with farmers and provincial governments in protecting the viability of the family farm through regional income-support programs.
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For more information contact:
William Van Tassel
President, Ontario-Quebec Grain Farmers’ Coalition