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Monday, March 12, 2007 

Harper Uses 'Smoke And Mirrors' For Agriculture Announcment

Stephen Harper was in Saskatchewan for a major agriculture announcment on Friday. The Provinicial Goverment was NOT advised of the announcment. Bruce Johnstone, Financial Editor of the Regina Leader Post, takes Harper to task for his tactics:

Smoke And Mirrors Or Agricultural Policy
Bruce Johnstone
march 10, 2007
Regina Leader Post

So is it an “investment in agriculture” or a “pre-election ploy’’ containing “recycled money”? When Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced $1 billion for Canadian producers at a news conference at a farm outside of Saskatoon, it was literally a bolt out of the blue.

Even one of Harper’s MPs, Saskatoonarea MP Brad Trost, had no clue about what Harper was going to announce the day before he announced it.

Certainly, Premier Lorne Calvert didn’t see the announcement coming.

Unlike Ontario’s Dalton McGuinty and Alberta’s Ed Stelmach, Calvert wasn’t invited to Harper’s announcement of federal government largesse in his home province.

Evidently, Calvert isn’t on Harper’s needto-know list, and he’s definitely not on the PM’s Christmas card list.

Indeed, Harper went out of his way to take potshots at Calvert and the NDP government, saying the $1-billion program is “not a Canada-Saskatchewan announcement. This is a national program.’’

He also suggested Saskatchewan voters would like the federal budget coming March 19. “Whether it is enough for the NDP is another question.”

The last time I looked Harper isn’t running against Calvert and the NDP, and the Conservative Party of Canada doesn’t have a (living, breathing) provincial wing in Saskatchewan.

For his part, Calvert replied that Harper’s “campaign-style” announcement “smacks of preelection.” (And Calvert would know, having just announced $5 billion in spending on highways and roads over the next 10 years.)

Calvert also reminded Harper of his promise to exempt resource revenues from the equalization formula. “This is not a congeniality contest we are involved in here — it is doing right for the people of Saskatchewan.’’

So what are we to make of Harper’s announcement. Is this an “investment in agriculture,’’ as Canadian Federation of Agriculture’s Bob Friesen called it?

Or is the $1 billion “insufficient’’ and “recycled’’ money from previous Liberal farm safety net programs, as former finance minister and agriculture minister Ralph Goodale charged?

The plain fact of the matter is, we don’t know. The program — $400 million to address the rising cost of inputs, like fuel and fertilizer, and $600 million for a new “government-producer savings account’’ — is too vague to be called a program. It’s more a promise of a program, with all sorts of strings attached.

First and foremost is passage of the March 19 budget.

Secondly, it presumes the continued survival of this government, whose future can be measured in days, weeks, even months, but probably not years.

It goes without saying that, constitutionally speaking, agriculture is a shared responsibility. The Harper government should be consulting with its provincial counterparts about the design and level of funding of farm safety net programs. That the Conservative government chooses to thumb its nose at the provincial government, while announcing a program in the province with nearly half of the arable land in Canada, suggests that Harper’s announcement has more to do with federal politics than farm policy.

Whether we ever see any detail in this so-called program is highly doubtful. Instead, it will go into the pot of pre-election goodies, along with the billions for transit, pollution and greenhouse gas emissions announced earlier this week.

With the March 19 budget thrown in for good measure, the Tories are brewing up a pre-election stew they hope will take them to a majority government in the not-too-distant future.

So, Mr. Farmer, if you’re waiting for a cheque in your mailbox, don’t hold your breath.

As published in the Regina Leader Post - March 10, 2007

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