Consultation Process for APF II Needs to Include Everyone

Canada is a very big country.  As farmers we know that.  I get mail from all over this big country.  Yes, Saskatchewan is a big place, but so is Quebec.  Ditto for Alberta and Manitoba.  And sometimes on the flat farm country of southwestern Ontario I know what’s good for us.  However, what’s good for me in southwestern Ontario might not be so good for my readers in Peace River country.

That salient point is very important when we consider agricultural policy in this country.  I’ve written about it every week for the last 20 years.  However, I never forget the guy in Ottawa who has to think about the big picture.  That was driven home to me many years ago when I showed up on the steps of the Sir John Carling building.  As a consultant working for a group of Quebec economists I contributed to work for Agriculture Canada on the farm input price index.

In short our project had to do with measuring farm inputs across Canada.  My responsibility was English Canada.  So there I was drawing up criteria for fuel usage and transport in each region of the country.  It surely was a lot different in British Columbia, versus Manitoba versus southwestern Ontario.

That’s Chuck Strahl’s challenge as Agriculture Canada launches consultations on the “Next Generation of Agriculture and Agri-Food Policy”.  As much as we gnash our teeth over the gross over spending and bungling of this bunch during the last Agricultural Policy Framework smozzle, Strahl still has to look at the big picture.  These consultations are taking place from January 22nd to March 5th.  I’ve registered to participate.  I’ve already completed the consultation on-line.  If you would like to participate go to http://nextgen.dialoguecircles.com and click away.

I must say in many ways it is a sad state of affairs.  This consultation is costing millions and unfortunately to me it has the air of “fait acompli” to it.  As I read through the workbooks, its pretty obvious, this is a bureaucratic exercise, which has already been exorcized.  I get the idea everything is already pre-ordained.  However, for public consumption consultations are being held from Vancouver Island to Newfoundland.  My question is where were these folks last April when 10,000 farmers gathered to protest the moribund agricultural policy brought about from the first Agricultural Policy Framework?

There are six pillars to what’s called “APF II.”  They are “market development and trade”, “food, safety and quality”, “innovation and science”, “the environment”, “renewal” and “business, risk management” or “BRM”.  It is a bureaucratic put together agricultural theme park of academic ideas, which has the capacity to gobble up turnip wagons of money.  Gobbling up that money is clearly on the agenda.

However, it’s not fair even for me to pour water on the agricultural policy fire.  Chuck Strahl does not know me even though I’ve met him twice.  The first time was last February when I preceded him on stage in front of the Sir John Carling building on a snowy Ottawa day.  The second time was later in Ridgetown Ontario.  Both times in different ways I was trying to get through to him about my issue.  However, from his vantage point he was thinking about the whole country.  A massive countrywide consultation is one answer for that.

Protests need to be part of that.  Why?  Simply put protests in farm country work.  You can debate what was right and wrong about the farm rallies held last year, but they did give a voice to many people never heard in this agricultural policy debate.  They certainly won’t be heard this time.  The federal bureaucrats who put this together have guaranteed that by framing the debate on what they think is good for them.

A good example of this is the moribund CAIS program.  Right now farmers are awaiting an answer on whether they will receive stabilization funds from crops grown in 2003, 2004 or 2005.  Nobody knows, not even the CAIS bureaucrats.  Even so, these same producers have been asked to pay their 2006 CAIS fee last Dec 31st and pay their 2007 fee in April 2007.  Dah!  Is this any way to run an agricultural business risk management policy?  I don’t think so.

So it is what is.  History breeds cynicism.  How can it be interpreted any other way when it comes to the present consultation?  Simply put it can’t be, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t participate.  It’s true.  Many farmers think our governments and their bureaucracy just don’t get it.  So show up and tell them any way you can.  It might be a frustrating exercise but in many ways it should be met with the same passion farmers exhibited at the protests last winter.  It’s finally our turn.  The challenge might be to get a fair hearing.