Grits pledge “regional flexibility” in ag programs

A $564 million “regional flexibility fund” for farm programming is among the promises on offer from the federal Liberals leading up to next month’s election.

Liberal leader Stephane Dion and members of the Liberal caucus and candidates’ roster appeared Friday morning at a farm at Headingley, Man., just west of Winnipeg, to outline their plans to provide $1.2 billion in rural Canada and agriculture over the next four years.

“We will make major investments to help farmers become more fuel efficient, reward farmers for their contributions to the environment and invest in research for green solutions from agriculture while also providing regional specific solutions for the economic risks that confront farmers,” Dion said in a release.

The proposed regional flexibility fund would allow farmers to develop
“regional-specific solutions to address the environment, business risk
management and cost of production needs,” the party said. “Farmers have often said big, national programs don’t work for them.”

“For too long we have dealt only with disasters in agriculture,” Dion said. “We have neglected investing in the future and positioning agriculture as a leader in the markets of the future.”

Also among the pledges announced Friday are a new $30 million program to support the promotion of local farmers’ markets and the branding of Canadian-grown foods.

“Green shift”

The Headingley stop was Dion’s second in the area in recent weeks; he visited Winnipeg Sept. 3 to pledge $900 million in offsets to farmers and other sectors such as fisheries affected by the Liberals’ proposed “green shift” economic and environmental plan.

Among those offsets, and included in the $1.2 billion announced Friday, were a $400 million emissions reduction credit program, available to farms that reduce greenhouse gas emissions (for example, through minimum-till carbon sinks, manure management or land set-asides); a $250 million Green Farms Fund to help farmers invest in energy-efficient technology (for example, anaerobic digesters, biomass energy or geothermal heating); and a $250 million Green Fisheries and Transportation Fund with rebates and incentives for investments in technologies and upgraded equipment that reduce fuel consumption.

Other funding announced as part of the “green shift” that could apply to farming operations has included a pledge of $1.7 billion for an accelerated capital cost allowance on investment in green technologies, and $1.2 billion to improve the Science, Research and Development tax credit “to encourage more investment in renewable solutions, such as those that come from farms.”

Dion’s other pledges for farmers on Friday include “restoring farmer control of a strong, democratic Canadian Wheat Board;” protection for Canada’s supply-managed dairy, egg and poultry sectors; support for a full cost rail review to ensure “accuracy and fairness” in the calculation of grain freight rates; and “an immediate moratorium on short-line rail closures pending further stakeholder consultation.”

“A Liberal government will stand firm in its commitment that only western Canadian wheat and barley farmers will determine the fate of the CWB,” Dion said in Friday’s release.

The Ontario Federation of Agriculture, in its own release Friday, reported “optimism” in reaction to the Liberals’ farm policy announcement. “The Liberals have set a promising precedent today and we hope to see more response to agriculture in all party platforms,” OFA president Geri Kamenz said.

Specifically, the OFA said the party’s pledges could make it possible for federal dollars to be used to fully fund Ontario’s Risk Management Program and provide the funding base for an Agri-Flex proposal.

“Promising to invest $1.2 billion over the next four years in on-farm
environmental solutions and regionally flexible safety nets would start to
address farmers’ needs for reliable and bankable solutions,” the OFA said in its release.

Ag debate

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture, meanwhile, announced it will hold its national agriculture debate on Sept. 29 at the Fairmont Chateau Laurier in Ottawa from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The Cable Public Affairs Channel (CPAC) plans to broadcast that pre-election debate live on its website, the CFA said.

Scheduled so far to appear at the CFA debate are the Conservatives’ agriculture minister, Saskatchewan MP Gerry Ritz, and the Liberals’ agriculture critic, Prince Edward Island MP Wayne Easter. Representatives from the NDP, Bloc Quebecois and Green Party have yet to be announced.

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