Last week at the conclusion of the annual meeting of agriculture ministers, federal minister Gerry Ritz and ministers from Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta together announced vital help for hard-hit prairie farmers and producers affected by recent flooding.
Affected producers will share $450 million in extra payments under the federal Agri-Recovery program. The assistance package will amount to $30 per acre and will be cost-shared by the prairie provinces and Ottawa.
Heavy rains have drenched parts of the prairies over the past month, ruining crops and making fields too wet to seed. Minister Ritz says it’s the fastest relief package under the Agri-Recovery program ever made. Alberta is set to receive $60 million through the $450-million program. This assistance will help farmers take immediate measures to protect, rehabilitate and manage affected cropland. Building on existing Agri programs, which is the first line of defense for Canadian farmers, this additional action means faster help for hard-hit Western farmers who need to deal with the realities today, while still planning for a successful planting season next year.
The ability of our Conservative government to react so swiftly to the flooding crisis is all about politics, in my mind. While in opposition, I joined my colleagues in the House of Commons calling on the Liberal government to separate disaster relief from the income stabilization programs being offered to farmers by the federal government. The Liberals never listened. Many of you will remember the pictures of former prime minister Jean Chretien visiting flooded areas in Manitoba and personally filling sandbags. This photo-op played big on television media and tried to dupe city folk into thinking Chretien was helping farmers.
In 2005-2006, we campaigned on a political platform to re-invent the suite of programs Agriculture Canada has for farmers. We did that immediately following our election to govern, with input from agriculture stakeholders. These programs were up and running shortly thereafter and were available to farmers during the current flood crisis.
Most recently in China, building on his continued interventions at multiple government levels, Minister Ritz secured an agreement doubling Canada’s wheat sales to China over recent years - 500,000 metric tonnes by the end of 2011- worth $130 million.
A few days before the wheat sales announcement, Minister Ritz declared that the trade barriers are coming down for Canadian beef in China. The breakthrough agreement between Canada and China allowing market access for Canadian beef in a staged process will soon see consumers across China - the world’s number one consumer of agriculture products with a growing population of 1.3 billion - enjoying safe, high quality Canadian beef.
During the past few years, Prime Minister Harper has dispatched our government’s agriculture minister to travel the world selling Canada’s agriculture products and securing trade deals. Minister Ritz is making sales in Mexico, Cuba, Russia, Japan, Hong Kong, China, South Korea, India, Morocco, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Peru, Colombia and the European Union.