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Westman MPs want more done for ag producers

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Dauphin-Swan River-Neepawa MP Dan Mazier and Brandon-Souris MP Larry Maguire are calling on the federal government to take urgent action to support Canada’s agriculture sector.
The financial support announced earlier this spring for agriculture is not new money, the MPs said, it’s the Agriculture department’s planned spending for the year. Neither are the funds dedicated to Farm Credit Canada to further indebt producers, considered new money, they added.
Instead of a COVID-19 assistance program, the Liberals reannounced a 2019 campaign commitment, a pattern all too familiar, proving the Liberals do not consider the agriculture sector to be a priority, Mazier said.
“The unprecedented nature of this pandemic calls for unprecedented action, not recycled programs by a government that does not take the agriculture sector seriously,” he said.
“That is why we have repeatedly called on the federal government to take strong action to support our farmers and producers, by reforming business risk management programs, expand eligibility criteria for the Canadian Emergency Business Account (CEBA), and implementing the Emergency Processing Fund.”
Recently, the federal government argued that farmers had to draw down their AgriInvest accounts before they would consider providing more support during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was revealed by the Agriculture department that most AgriInvest accounts have less than $10,000 and more than 10,000 accounts have a balance of zero. This effectively means that the government is asking more than 73,000 farmers to draw down on money they do not have, which will hardly make a difference in any size of farming operation, the MPs said.
Additionally, farmers have been concerned with their inability to access the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) due to the use of personal accounts on family farms and the lack of qualifying expenses under the program. Recent changes to the CEBA are encouraging, however, further improvements need to be made to ensure the eligibility criteria is expanded to include all farm businesses, Maguire said.
“If the Liberals do not amend the eligibility criteria for the zero interest loans, countless farmers will not get the help they need,” Maguire said.
“The Liberals continue to fail to meet the needs of farmers and producers who have, for months, been asking the government for help. ”
Lastly, the MPs said the Emergency Processing Fund was something agri-food processors saw as vital to aid in their response to COVID-19. However, access to those funds remains months away and processors continue to face immediate and unprecedented challenges. Increased costs including PPE and other uncertainties such as access to labour are jeopardizing the industry’s long-term viability, they added.
To ensure the food supply chain remains unbroken, Mazier and Maguire argue it is imperative the government continue to work with agri-food processors to identify and address their concerns and ensure they remain competitive as the country emerges from this pandemic.

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Staff Writer
REPORTER
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