The province has given the nod to a long-sought request for a plebiscite to make the cattle checkoff non-refundable.
It’s hoped a province-wide vote on the contentious issue will be held this autumn, said Rich Smith, executive director of Alberta Beef Producers.
“It’s a very positive step towards us being able to have a plebiscite of producers in the fall and let producers make their decision on whether the service charge should be non-refundable,” said Smith. “The cattle feeders supported us asking for a plebiscite, so we’re working together.”
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Feeders account for most of the refunds of the $2 provincial checkoff. Each year, Alberta Beef Producers refunds about $2 million — roughly a third of the total collected.
But after lengthy negotiations with the Alberta Cattle Feeders Association, the two groups struck a deal to back a plebiscite on making the checkoff non-refundable. The key to the agreement is using part of a non-refundable checkoff to create an industry development fund.
“With the non-refundable service charge, we’re expecting that $1.4 million would be available to the Alberta Beef Industry Development Fund, which basically makes investments in market development, research, education, and those sorts of activities,” said Smith.
“That’s what both us and the Cattle Feeders are trying to change — to get that money available for industry investments, rather than just having it taken back by producers.”
The two cattle groups are now working on the terms of reference for the vote. They will also have joint town hall meetings in June to give their members a chance to see what they’re proposing.
“We’re working closely with ACFA on this one. It’s been a positive thing and helps us move forward with this issue,” said Smith.
The two organizations are jointly holding a series of two-hour “town hall meetings” this month. The dates and times are:
- June 4, 7 p.m. — Bow Slope Shipping outside Brooks off Highway No. 1;
- June 5, 10 a.m. — Paradise Canyon Golf Resort, 185 Canyon Blvd. West, Lethbridge;
- June 6, 7 p.m. — Royal Canadian Legion, 5108-49 Ave., Innisfail;
- June 7, 7 p.m. — Lakeland College, Room MB136, 5707 College Drive, Vermilion;
- June 13, 7 p.m. — Hazel Bluff Community Hall, Highway 18 and Range Road 10, five miles west of Westlock;
- June 14, 7 p.m. — Pomeroy Inn & Suites, 11710-102nd St., Grande Prairie.
ABP has already talked to some of its members about holding the plebiscite during its fall meetings, added Smith
“We’re hoping we can conduct this in the fall because we already have meetings that producers can come to and get out and vote,” he said.
While the plebiscite alone wouldn’t make the checkoff non-refundable, Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier said one must be held before he will consider changing the checkoff rules.