A longtime rural resident, I use my 60 plus years of life learning to opinionate here and elsewhere on the “interweb” on everything from politics to environmental issues. A believer in reasonable discourse rather than unhelpful attacks I try to give positive input to the blogesphere, so feel free to comment upon rural issues or anything else posted here. But don’t be surprised if you comments get zapped if you are not polite in your replys.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Response to the Beyond Freefall Report. (part 2)

As promised I have studied the governments specific response for a number of recommendations contained in the Senate report “Beyond Freefall: Halting Rural Poverty”. Below is the synopsis of those particular recommendations that caught my eye back in June of 2008. For the sake of brevity and clarity the text of the response has been heavily edited, those that want to read the full text should go to the Rural Secretariats web site. My comments are in italics!

Even though I have only addressed a few issues it is a long post, I hope you will take the time to wade through it, reading the full report and response will take even more patience!

RECOMMENDATION 2-3: The committee recommends that the federal government work with provincial, territorial and municipal governments to identify ways in which a range of existing and new services might be delivered through existing rural infrastructure points such as rural post offices.

Government Response - Service Canada provides one-stop, integrated service across delivery channels such as telephone, Internet, mail, and in-person……
SC has, on a very limited basis, piloted partnerships with provincial counterparts, such as Service Ontario………
Canada Post also provides an important federal presence in rural Canada ………
In response to the recommendation to expand the range of services offered by rural post offices, Government departments and agencies may make arrangements with Canada Post to deliver services to Canadians through rural post offices.

In other words what you see is what you get! “Departments MAY make arrangements” not SHALL or are ENCOURAGED to! As for SC good luck with that if you need to produce documentation or require face to face help in rural areas! The use of existing rural infrastructure, be it federal or provincial, schools or post offices, to provide a location to provide services to the rural community (even on a part time or occasional basis) is a recommendation that makes so much sense that it should be a “no brainer”.

RECOMMENDATION 2-4: The committee recommends that the federal government move at least 10% of its existing large urban centre employees to regional centres in rural Canada.

Government Response - It is important to note that 60 per cent of Core Public Administration positions are already located outside of the National Capital Region

So if its not in Ottawa it must be rural?? A “Regional Center” in Toronto does little for the residents of Owen Sound or Goderich, or the many rural towns and villages across Canada.

RECOMMENDATION 3-1: The committee recommends that the federal government reintroduce the Canadian Farm Families Options Program with modifications that take into account feedback from farmers……………

RECOMMENDATION 3-2: The committee recommends that the federal government eliminate the tax on capital gains on the disposition of qualifying farm property of an active farming business to a child (as defined in the Income Tax Act) who commits to engage in an active farming business…………..

Government Response - Changes were made to the second year of Canadian Farm Families Options Program, as a result, $230 million was redirected to other agricultural priorities……..
The Income Tax Act contains provisions that benefit small businesses, including farm operations……..

Seems like another Non Answer to me!

RECOMMENDATION 3-3: The committee recommends that, as part of the proposed long-term farm policy framework, the federal government introduce direct payments in recognition of the ecological goods and services provided by
farmers and rural landowners.

Government Response - Environment Canada (EC), and other federal and provincial departments are evaluating the efficiency of a range of innovative mechanisms to enhance Ecological Goods and Services , such as tradeable permits, conservation easements, enhancements of environmental farm plans, and market-based instruments such as water quality trading and auctions.

Water Quality trading and auctions?? Market Based instruments?? Tradeable Permits??
Sounds like another one of those “if you don’t want to clean it up you can buy your way out schemes!

RECOMMENDATION 3-4: The committee recommends that the federal government should…………. help organize and fund efforts to develop watershed agreements between urban communities and major stakeholders in relevant rural communities. These agreements should ensure that rural communities, including rural private property owners, are adequately compensated for their efforts to protect watersheds.

Government Response - In Budget 2007, the Government made a series of investments in Canadian watersheds including:
$12 million over two years to support the clean-up of Lake Simcoe;
$11 million over two years to accelerate the clean-up of eight Areas of Concern in the Great Lakes Basin under the Canada-U.S. Great Lakes Water Quality agreement;
$7 million over two years to support federal leadership in advancing the clean-up of Lake
Winnipeg; and
$5 million over two years to the International Joint Commission for further study of the Great Lakes and outreach on water quality with the U.S.

The provinces and territories are the main authorities managing water resources in Canada.
The Government of Canada is responsible for drinking water provisions in areas of federal jurisdiction (First Nations, national parks, national defence), aquatic ecosystem protection, including for fish and wildlife habitat and species at risk; marine navigation; and formal agreements for managing water resources between provinces, and between Canada and the United States.

The Government of Canada is investing in the protection of our watersheds under the Action Plan for Clean Water and is evaluating the effectiveness of a range of watershed management instruments to ensure that they can demonstrate measurable results.

OK, I will give then this one but will have to see what this “Action Plan for Clean Water” is! But nothing about “help organize and fund efforts to develop watershed agreements between urban communities and major stakeholders”

RECOMMENDATION 3-5: The committee recommends that the federal government provide stable funding to Environment Canada’s Habitat Stewardship Program for Species at Risk over a five-year period.

Government Response - The Government is pleased to report that the HSP is funded on a stable basis through the Government’s Species at Risk Program. It is supported by government annual appropriation funding and is being supplemented by additional funding until 2011-2012.

I will have to give them this one also although I do wonder if “stable funding” means the same thing to government as is does to those administering the programs.

RECOMMENDATION 3-7: The committee recommends that Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada along with key producers conduct a thorough assessment of the impacts on the rural economy of the various government supports to the biofuels industry……………..

Government Response -The Government is investing $2.2 billion over 9 years to help develop the Canadian biofuels industry. ……..
As the Canadian renewable fuels strategy is implemented, there will be benefits to biofuels development for rural economies including new jobs and new market opportunities for farmers………
Analysis conducted within AAFC estimated that to meet the renewable fuel mandate, about 8,700 jobs (direct and indirect) would be created in Canada with an expected average of about 334 jobs per 100 million litres of biofuels production capacity developed. …….
This integrated approach makes it difficult to evaluate the strategy solely based on its impact on rural communities…..

So much for the “thorough assessment” sound like its all decided and that the impacts upon rural communities, or for that matter the viability of using arable land to grow food for cars rather than people, comes secondary.

RECOMMENDATION 3-8: The committee recommends that the federal government, with the provinces and territories, change food inspection regulations to ease the entry of local producers and organic growers into the market………..

Government Response -The Government’s legislative and regulatory base protects consumers’ and producers’ rights while maintaining high standards for a safe, fair, and secure trading system. This includes putting in place devices to better identify importers, track imports, and work with foreign authorities to verify the safety of foods at their country of origin.

For local organic growers to enter the market, compliance with either provincial or federal regulations may be required. The Government is supporting producer access by making the Canada General Standard Board’s Organic Production Systems - General Principles and Management Standards (CGSB 310 Standard) and the Permitted Substances List publicly accessible.

Through a system of product and labelling certification, consumers can have confidence the products they purchase are organic and Canadian producers of organic products can have confidence that products offered in the market meet the principles of organic production. An organic equivalency arrangement with the United States is also now in place. With this arrangement, importers of organic products from the United States are required to meet the terms of this arrangement, contributing to a level playing field.

Lots here about regulations but nothing about making it easer for small local producers to enter the market or to comply with all those regulations! Support is making the regulations “publicly accessible”? Should they not be anyway? I am not sure whether “equivalency arrangement with the United States” help or hinder our small producers.

RECOMMENDATION 4-2: The committee recommends that the federal government provide incentives for sustainable forestry management practices on private woodlots through the Income Tax Act.

Government Response - The Government of Canada appreciates the recommendation of the Committee regarding incentives for sustainable forestry management practices on private woodlots through the Income Tax Act. The Government of Canada notes that owners of commercial woodlots …… may already benefit from tax measures………

In other words the appreciation does not extend to actually doing anything and non commercial wood lot owners in particular are on their own in this regard!

RECOMMENDATION 6-4: The committee recommends that the federal government commit to 50-50 capital funding for new rural transportation infrastructure. {and} study how to coordinate existing rural transportation services into a flexible network {that would}provide extra transportation services to rural citizens.

Government Response - Municipalities have significant flexibility to use the (GTF) funding to address their infrastructure priorities. The federal GTF doubled on April 1, 2009 from $1 billion to $2 billion per year …….. (and) will become permanent beyond 2014 at $2 billion per year nationally……….
(The) 100% rebate of the Goods and Services Tax paid by communities …….. , The Communities Component of the Building Canada Fund …………
Federal, provincial and territorial transportation Ministers maintain a forum, the Council of Ministers Responsible for Transportation and Highway Safety to discuss transportation issues. Any jurisdiction wishing to discuss transportation in rural areas may raise this issue at the Council and propose to other jurisdictions possible initiatives for study.

OK so funding from various programs is available to all municipalities across Canada but what off specific help with coordination and funding of RURAL transportation issues?

RECOMMENDATION 7-5: The committee recommends that the Canada Revenue Agency and Services Canada undertake to inform clients about the full range of programmes and tax benefits to which they may be eligible, regardless of which program(s) they applied for. {and should} automatically calculate an individual’s eligibility for existing and future tax benefits……..

Government Response - The CRA has introduced several measures to simplify the application process and automatically calculate benefit entitlements. Taxpayers that file their T1 Income Tax and Benefit Return are deemed to have applied for the GST/HST credit, even if they forget to tick the “Yes” box ….
The CRA deliveries of provincial and territorial programs harmonize a client’s application and filing requirements. By using …. information already collected at the federal level, recipients do not need to apply separately…..

The CRA has recently introduced ….. an integrated Canada Child Benefits Application registration option presented to an applicant ….during the birth registration process. (The) applicant’s registration information (is sent) to the CRA for eligibility determination.

So again very little new, seniors must still apply for OAS and supplements, if you miss a deduction to which you are entitled you may or may not have your return corrected. Rarely are we directly informed of new programs that may be of benefit to us. The amount spent on telling Canadians “we have a plan, we have a plan” would easily allow the government to give us all monthly updates on changes to tax rules, support programs, and the like. God forbid that we should be subject to an influx of actual real information!

RECOMMENDATION 7-6: The committee recommends that the federal government extend eligibility for its charitable income tax credit to bulk donations of food items………

Government Response - Corporations are allowed to deduct the fair market value of charitable donations (including bulk donations of food items and other gifts of inventory) up to a prescribed limit expressed as a percentage of the corporation’s income for the year.

The federal government does not impose an excise tax on imported food goods. In addition, there is no Goods and Services Tax/Harmonized Sales Tax (GST/HST) on basic groceries (imported or domestic).

Seems like the Senate Committee begs to differ, I cannot say which is true. It seems to me that the GST/HST should not be charged on ALL foodstuffs. This one is very topical with the demand at food banks up substantially and the donations to fill that need down substantially.

RECOMMENDATION 8-3: The committee recommends that the proposed Department of Rural Affairs study any existing and potential rural-urban school partnerships, shared schooling services among rural communities, and options for using rural schools to their full potential.

Government Response - The provision of elementary/secondary school services is an area of provincial and territorial jurisdiction, with the exception of elementary/secondary education for First Nation students living on-reserve, where the Government has responsibility under the Indian Act.

What a cop-out, as with the issue of providing services via our rural post offices our rural schools could well provide a venue for providing federal and provincial services to the surrounding community. School locations are generally in use less than 30% of the time but are rarely used for community functions. Federal and Provincial governments cooperating to provide evening or summer adult learning, tax seminars, passport application opportunities etc etc in our school facilities would not only make access easer but (unless unfunded at that level) provide much needed financial support for our rural schools.


My biggest disappointment with this response is the total lack of SPECIFIC answers to the very specific and well received recommendations made by the Senate Committee. It is in my view a total waste of time and by-enlarge just a regurgitation of information that we (and the Senate) already knew, with little commitment to actually adopting any of the recommendations.

In part 3 I will try and take a deeper look at those recommendations not covered here. Hopefully in a shorter post, but as in waiting for this response from our government, don’t hold your breath!
Update Dec 20 2009 - Whilst a copy of this report still cannot be found on either the Parlimentry site or the Rural Secretariat site it can be found at Govresponse_ruralpov_eng_final.pdf

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