A coalition of farm groups is encouraging federal and provincial governments to get creative in figuring out a way to break the stalemate that’s preventing changes to the AgriStability business risk management program for farmers.
The issue of business risk management reform is expected to be at the top of the agenda for the twice-delayed annual meeting between federal, provincial, and territorial (FPT) agriculture ministers to be held in two virtual sessions on November 20 and November 27.
The Ag Growth Coalition, whose membership includes the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, Canadian Canola Growers Association, Grain Growers of Canada, Grain Farmers of Ontario, the National Sheep Network, and the Canadian Horticultural Council, continues to lobby to have the trigger for AgriStability payments raised back to 85 per cent from 70 per cent of historical reference margins, and a removal of the reference margin limit.
The provincial and federal governments have not been able to come to an agreement on whether changes should be made because they can’t agree on how they would be funded. AgriStability, as agreed to in the five-year Canadian Agricultural Partnership that started in 2018, is funded on a 60/40 basis, with Ottawa contributing 60 per cent of the cost and the provinces contributing the other 40 per cent for their farmers.
“My reading of the tea leaves at this point is removing the reference margin limit seems to be the area where there’s the most consensus between federal and provincial governments,” says Dave Carey, vice-president of government and industry relations with the Canadian Canola Growers Association, speaking with RealAgriculture’s Shaun Haney on Tuesday. “The real crux of the negotiations seems to be around that trigger and who pays for it.”
The provinces — Prairie ones in particular — have resisted making changes that would require more funding because they are facing large provincial budget deficits and do not want to carry 40 per cent of any additional cost.
Carey says they’d like to see the federal government fund more than 60 per cent of any temporary improvements to AgriStability.
“We certainly understand that agriculture is a shared jurisdiction, but constitutional supremacy-wise, the federal government does ultimately have more authority,” he says.
“The provinces don’t have the same fiscal abilities or borrowing powers, so like in other sectors, we’re asking the federal government to take leadership and perhaps carry some more of the water,” explains Carey. “It’s not long term, we have another agricultural partnership framework coming out for 2023. That’s the time to make the long-term fixes. We need to fix AgriStability so we can limp along until the next framework.”
The signal from the federal government is that the 60/40 funding split is non-negotiable as any change might set a precedent, says Carey, but they’ve been urging federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau as recently as Monday to consider different funding combinations for any temporary measures added to the agreed-upon terms of the AgriStability program.
“We’re asking for creativity in the funding formula for any improvements. If they increase the trigger or remove the RML (reference margin limit), let’s get creative, and maybe that doesn’t have to be 60/40. Maybe the federal government can hold more of the weight on that, 90/10, maybe 80/20, 70/30. We’re asking the federal government that has a mandate for confederation that they have to be the ones that lead,” says Carey.
In addition to meeting with Minister Bibeau, he says the coalition has also been making the case for farm business risk management reform to the finance department, Treasury Board, Prime Minister’s Office, and Deputy Prime Minister’s office.
Farm groups have been lobbying for changes to AgriStability for many years. There was a strong sense of disappointment when the ag ministers’ failed to agree to any changes at a semi-annual meeting in December of last year, which led all stakeholders to circle the upcoming July 2020 annual ministers’ meeting on their calendars. Unfortunately, the meeting in Guelph in July was rescheduled to October due to COVID-19, and then the October meeting was subsequently postponed to November, with the Saskatchewan election cited as the official reason. The federal government has said the ministers will issue a joint communique following the virtual session on November 27.