Auditor General Sheila Fraser Audits CAIS: Is It The Worst Agricultural Safety Net Ever?

Sometimes I take a pounding publicly.  Rarely do I give it out.  However the events of the last week seeing Canadian Auditor General Sheila Fraser trashing the CAIS program made me feel at least for the moment vindicated.  It is one thing for CAIS being a dog and wouldn’t work from its inception.  However, it’s another thing when the women empowered with bringing some type of fiscal scrutiny over public policy comes down on your side.  Sheila Fraser for her work needs to be canonized on the rural concessions across this country.

It was a couple of year ago I took my public pounding and gave a little out.  I got to question the Ontario Minister of Agriculture about CAIS in a public forum near Chatham Ontario.  She was feeling farmers’ pain with a backdrop of low prices.  I couldn’t take it.  Her predecessor was the architect of our destruction by signing APF and bringing in CAIS.  We went toe to toe; in my mind she not having a clue of what she spoke.  I’m sure she thought the same of me as she went on and on about how good the CAIS program was.

Of course now with Sheila Fraser weighing in everybody can take their clothes off and jump in the river.  If I said it a million times, nobody knew anything about CAIS.  I didn’t know, the minister didn’t know, your neigbour didn’t know and even the bureaucrats didn’t know.  However, little did we know that some of the bureaucrats were cashing in as consultants regarding CAIS.  CAIS was and is bad to the bone.  Even still they will be demanding your CAIS fee real soon.

If you’ve been under a rock over the last week, let me fill you in to what Auditor General Sheila Fraser said.  The following are some snippets from her report.

-CAIS is overly complex, lacks transparency, had clear conflicts of interest among some employees and focuses too much on collecting overpayments while largely neglecting underpayments to farmers.
-“The way the (Agriculture) Department calculates benefits is complex and not transparent”.
-About 80 per cent of all applications are prepared by accountants or other paid specialists.
-The audit found that some of the 400 federal employees who help farmers process the 55,000 applications annually actually moonlighted as paid consultants — a clear breach of the federal conflict-of-interest code.
-At least five employees were ordered to stop preparing CAIS applications for their clients.
-Even with the help of professionals, Fraser’s audit said, farm applicants have little idea of whether they’ll qualify for a return, or how much they are eligible to receive.
-Not only is the process complicated, it changes on the fly with little notice to farmers.

These are only snippets.  You can read the full report at http://www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/domino/reports.nsf/html/20070504ce.html.

The point is at the end of the day there was a colossal amount of energy expended by farmers and farm groups alike telling the story about CAIS.  On the other end of the scale there was government defending the indefensible.  And now in May 2007, CAIS is still here, still running without direction and demanding more and more and promising less and less.  Nobody knows anything.  Politically it’s turned into a quagmire.

In the past I’ve written many times slamming the Liberal party of Canada for the CAIS program.  It is true; their vision was terrible when it came to this.  They were the ones who enacted it.  Stephen Harper promised to scrap it, but still over a year out from being elected its still here.  Getting rid of this dead fish is seemingly taking forever.

Keep in mind CAIS may pass away but the impetus for its birth still lives.  CAIS is a “margin based agricultural support program”.  Both the province and the federal government have endorsed that concept at federal provincial agriculture meetings.  In my opinion “margin based programs” breed failure.  They are too intrusive, inherently unfair to producers, cost prohibitive to administer and in no way help government foster their goals.  So why do they see the light of day.  Simply put, in an academic sense they make sense to bureaucrats and even some agricultural economists.  So far despite it’s obvious deficiencies, they’ve pulled the wool over everybody’s eyes.

In the past few weeks I’ve been asked more than once about the CAIS program from guys who never received a dime.  At the same time they’ve seen drops in their revenue streams over successive years of 20-50%.  That’s an aside from the 25% drop they’ve seen in potential corn revenue since February.  At the end of the day no farm leader should accept this charade anymore.  Bury CAIS forever.  Anything less, is a road to nowhere.