They cut it close, but federal Liberals came through on their pledge to kick in their share of disaster funding for hard-hit livestock producers.
However, the last-minute announcement means federal bureaucrats will have to work out the rules and procedures for emergency aid from the AgriRecovery program.
Early on a Sunday morning — just a few hours before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau went to Rideau Hall to launch the Sept. 20 election — Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada issued a press release saying Ottawa would, indeed, match (on a 60:40 basis) emergency funding pledged by the Prairie provinces.
“The situation is critical,” federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said in a video recorded the day before the Aug. 15 announcement. “Just over a week ago, I announced our government had committed $100 million to help farmers through the AgriRecovery relief program. And today I am announcing that we are boosting that commitment to up to half a billion dollars.”
That means Alberta ranchers should receive $340 million in combined provincial-federal aid, with their Saskatchewan counterparts seeing nearly $300 million and Manitoba cattle producers getting $155 million. (Ontario has pledged $5 million and B.C. is also expected to seek funds, which means the entire $500 million in federal cash is likely to be used up.)
The specifics still need to be worked out with the provinces, but Bibeau said the money would cover the cost of buying feed and transporting it as well as the cost of bringing in water. She said government officials would move quickly to do “joint assessments” and then to roll out programs.
The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association and provincial cattle groups mounted an all-out effort to secure more federal funding before an election was called and the government went into “caretaker” mode (when it isn’t supposed to announce major programs or spending).
As soon as the Liberal government made its commitment, the focus switched to talks with federal and provincial officials to finalize them as soon as possible, Alberta Beef Producers vice-chair Jason Hale said on Aug. 16 (just before the Aug. 23, 2021 issue of the Alberta Farmer went to press).
“We’ve been in continuous talks and we’ll continue to work with the provincial government and the federal government to determine how they are going to roll out the program,” said Hale, who has a cow-calf operation and runs yearlings at Bassano.
The way to qualify for a payment is still to be determined, as well as other key issues such as what sort of documentation will be required and, most importantly, when the money will start to flow. The province wants eligible producers to receive $200 per breeding female, with $94 coming as an “immediate” payment.
“We want it out now,” said Hale. “And the (provincial) government does, too. In talking to the ag minister, they want it in people’s bank accounts right away.”
The province wants its share of the emergency fund to be a cash payment but Hale said he didn’t know if Ottawa will want producers to submit receipts for purchased feed or require some sort of detailed documentation.
“This is still to be solidified,” he said. “ABP staff are doing an excellent job and working really hard. That’s their focus right now, because producers want to know. They want to make decisions right now.
“There are so many unknowns at this time. We’re working very hard to get the specifics down.”