Feds Lay an Egg: 2002 Rural Policy Front

Commentary, Agriculture, Robert Sopuck

It’s time to review the impacts governments have had on rural communities during 2002.

New federal policies, designed with urban Canadian voters in mind, continued to sideswipe Rural Canada.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans became a permanent fixture on the Canadian Prairies. Completely oblivious to the harm it is causing, the department is using the new Fisheries Act to insinuate itself into most decisions about rural development including road and drainage construction, adding new costs to our stressed farm economy. DFO is doing the job with 120 new full-time staff; a task that was being handled quite well by provincial governments.

The federal Animal Rights Bill has moved to the Senate, where one hopes for a complete overhaul. But don’t hold your breath. This bill may expose all uses of animals to the scrutiny of the courts.

What can one say about the firearms fiasco that hasn’t already been said? Hundreds of millions of dollars have been wasted for absolutely no benefit. This is one to watch.

The Species at Risk Act has passed. The current version, while slightly better than the original, does have the potential to restrict private land use severely, should an endangered species be discovered. The only bright spot here is that David Anderson, Canada’s Environment Minister, seems determined to use incentives for conservation first and then regulations.

The Kyoto Protocol passed, with who knows what effects. Rural people could be greatly affected. It is worth noting that before Australia dropped any plan to ratify Kyoto it had protected its country folk by negotiating exemptions from the policy. Canada’s rural communities are twisting in the wind.

Canada’s new Agricultural Policy Framework is looking more and more ineffectual with the exception of the environment side of things, where some progress and real money are evident. The Canadian Wheat Board continues to be a bone of contention, but I predict that this debate will simply fade away as more and more specialty crops are grown and more grain is fed to livestock at home. Finally, thumbs down to the feds for an ag policy that panders obviously to Quebec dairy farmers at the risk of western farmers who depend on a free trading economy.

Provincially, there’s an equal mix of good and bad. On the good news front, the Government of Manitoba has been steadfast in its support for the livestock industry, in spite of a few hiccups. We would be much better off if the recommendations of the Livestock Stewardship Panel were implemented.

The Province gets high marks for its aggressive and creative immigration program which has brought new blood to many rural communities particularly Winkler and Steinbach.

The Government of Manitoba has continued with the expansion of Conservation Districts (CD) begun by the previous government. CD’s are wonderful examples of local decision-making about high priority land and water management issues. As well, the government has seen fit to expand its Environmental Tax Credit Program as a way to provide private landowners with the right conservation incentives.

Manitoba’s support for Kyoto has been a disappointment which, coupled with the very risky ethanol initiative, does not bode well for rural regions.

High property taxes on farmland remain a thorn in the side of most producers. The unfairness of this method for funding education is clear but the money must be found somewhere. The government has probably concluded that a few angry farmers are better than lots of angry non-farmers.

Overall grades: B- for the Government of Manitoba and a resounding F for the Government of Canada. Happy Holidays.

More on the Frontier Centre’s Rural Renaissance Project