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Federal COP program canned: Easter

The federal government’s $100 million-per-year program to help farmers cope with high costs of production (COP) seems to have been cancelled without paying out to farmers at all, Liberal agriculture critic Wayne Easter says.

“The Conservative government promised a program, created it, and for no apparent reason that makes sense, cancelled it,” Easter said in a release Tuesday.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper in March 2007 pledged $400 million in funding that year “to help address high production costs over the last four years,” plus $100 million per year “to address cost of production issues when they occur.”

Now, Easter said in an interview Wednesday, the COP program’s $100 million per year is nowhere to be found in the government’s budget estimates, and a recent appearance by Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz before the Commons agriculture committee suggests the money has been redirected elsewhere.

“As a government, we are not afraid to work with farmers to redirect money that is not hitting the target. One example, of course, is the cost-of-production program,” Ritz said while addressing the committee Feb. 10.

The COP program, Ritz said, “simply did not trigger effectively or efficiently. With the new Growing Forward sweep, cost to production is factored into a wide range of farm support programs.”

Growing Forward is the government’s replacement for the previous five-year Agricultural Policy Framework, and includes business risk management programming such as AgriStability.

As far as the federal COP funding is concerned, however, “we do not believe any of this money was ever paid out,” Easter said. The program, he added Tuesday, was cancelled under the departmental strategic review at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

“Our farmers have had to absorb, and face rising input costs that are in no way offset by returns from the market for commodities produced,” said Easter, a former National Farmers Union president from P.E.I.

“While this program was far from adequate it was a step in the right direction,” he said. “The question is, why, after announcing the program a little over a year ago, did Prime Minister Harper and Agriculture Minister Ritz suddenly cancel it?”

Easter called the decision “nothing short of a rank betrayal of our producers. We have seen this kind of behaviour with respect to the (Farm Families Options) program as well.”

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