Que. farmers rip Ritz over “flex” consultations

An eastern Canadian grain growers’ group says federal Ag Minister Gerry Ritz’s plans to consult farmers on a new “flexibility” program are turning out to be an “illusion.”

Ritz on March 4 said he would hold roundtable meetings with producers in Saskatchewan, Ontario, Alberta and Manitoba to discuss the design of an agricultural flexibility program.

The government’s budget in January earmarked $500 million to fund an ag flexibility program, which it said will involve working with the provinces to “meet unique regional needs and maximize opportunities.”

The budget described the agricultural flexibility plan as a program to help farmers develop new technologies and promote environmental sustainability.

The pledge of a “flexibility” plan had followed calls in the months leading up to the budget from groups such as the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) for a federally-funded “AgriFlex” program that would have allowed provinces and territories the flexibility to distribute money according to their requirements.

But the Ontario-Quebec Grain Farmers’ Coalition, which previously ripped Ottawa’s budget proposal for a flexibility plan as “a flawed program” that “will do nothing to improve the long-term viability of the family farm,” isn’t impressed with Ritz’s consultations.

Ritz held discussions last week with his “hand-picked” roundtable participants, the coalition said Monday, but “incredibly, Minister Ritz will not be meeting with any farmers from Quebec.”

“This is just a window-dressing exercise, and farmers will not be fooled into taking it seriously,” said coalition president William Van Tassel of Hebertville, Que., about 60 km west of Chicoutimi.

“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.”

The flexibility fund, the group said, is to specifically exclude business risk management programs from support, 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,” Van Tassel said.

“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.”

That said, Ritz in his release March 4 mentioned that further consultations with “representatives along the entire value chain” are also to be held “in the coming weeks and months.”

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