Opinion: Prairie provinces not warming up to AgriStability changes

Public pressure is building on provinces still resisting federal changes to AgriStability, notably Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

But there are no signs the strategy is working.

Meanwhile, the federal government and those provinces in favour of the changes, hope the proposals will be accepted soon.

At a Nov. 27 online meeting with her provincial and territorial counterparts, federal Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Marie-Claude Bibeau offered the provinces a plan to reform business risk management’s biggest irritant, AgriStability.

Bibeau’s offer was to continue splitting the bill of the program 60-40 with the provinces, while increasing the overall cost of the program by making it easier for producers to access, and paying them more when they receive a payout. 

Prairie provinces expressed immediate concerns.

Manitoba has been the most vocal opponent. Saskatchewan and Alberta have concerns, too.

The cost is largely driving the disapproval, but some believe AgriStability should be scrapped altogether and replaced with a more effective program.

With Ontario, British Columbia, Prince Edward Island and Quebec on board with Bibeau’s plan, it makes sense why pressure is being exerted on the prairie provinces. 

Two of the three prairie provinces are needed for the changes to go forward, and it is producers in those regions who stand to benefit the most from changes made to AgriStability.

The longer it drags on, the longer it will take for payments to be made retroactively to 2020. 

Bibeau made as much clear in a recent letter to the provinces, in which she outlined her hope that a response would be received by the end of January. 

Some people have criticized Bibeau’s recent letter as a deadline, but it is unfair to suggest that the federal offer will suddenly expire. There is no indication Bibeau is dealing in ultimatums here.

Her letter didn’t get the response she was seeking, however, which is why the campaign to pressure the unconvinced provinces to get on board went public.

Ottawa co-ordinated with Ontario, responsible for co-chairing the federal-provincial meetings, before sending a joint-press release Jan. 19 urging “all provincial and territorial ministers to support the proposed changes.”

Ernie Hardemann, Ontario’s agriculture minister, is well positioned to be a consensus builder.

By partnering with Ontario, and by extension the other “in” provinces, Bibeau is attempting to show a united front to the prairie provinces. 

The federal Liberals are also demonstrating the issue extends beyond party lines: conservative governments outside of the prairie provinces, and the B.C. NDP government, support the plan. 

Bibeau’s office even enlisted the efforts of former Liberal cabinet minister Ralph Goodale, who penned an op-ed spelling out the case for accepting the deal. Saskatchewan’s government is closely allied with many of the same people who actively worked to vote out Goodale in the 2019 election, but his voice still carries weight. 

Several lobby groups, including the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, put in efforts to echo support for Bibeau’s plan, further increasing the pressure on the “out” provinces.

But despite these efforts, there is no sign the pressure campaign is working. 

Saskatchewan and Manitoba say they are still considering the proposal. Saskatchewan has requested another meeting with Bibeau and the provinces. 

Bibeau is believed to be open to meeting again. 

If that happens, it will be the latest in a few dozen meetings held to fix AgriStability.

No pressure.

About the author

Reporter

D.C. Fraser

D.C. Fraser is Glacier FarmMedia’s Ottawa-based reporter. Growing up mostly in Alberta, Fraser also lived in Saskatchewan for ten years where he covered politics, including a stint teaching at the University of Regina’s School of Journalism. He is an avid fan of the outdoors and a pretty good beer league hockey player. His passion for agriculture and agri-food policy comes naturally: Six consecutive generations of his family have worked in the industry.

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