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.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Response to the Beyond Freefall Report. (part 3)

Part 1 and Part 2 of my response to the response were largely negative, in this final post on this I will try and find some positive things to say about the governments various programs and funding outlines contained in this document as difficult as that may be.

Throughout this response the government makes repeated references to The Rural Secretariat and almost all of the new initiatives are “coordinated by” that small department within the Ministry of Agriculture and Agri-Food. It is my understanding that this department does not deliver or manage any programs themselves but is “responsible for developing partnerships with federal, provincial, territorial and rural stakeholders” and “works with government departments & agencies …. to explore mechanisms to … coordinate federal government programs….”

There are two point here, firstly you can only “coordinate” programs that exist or are being developed and such programs specifically aimed at rural Canada seem to be in short supply.

Secondly the senates recommendation that the “Government create a new Department of Rural Affairs which would assume and expand on the responsibilities currently assigned to the Rural Secretariat.” Was met with this statement:-
“The Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food was assigned specific responsibility for coordinating rural development and enhancing the quality of rural life.”

In other words NO new Department of Rural Affairs, its all up the Minister! It then goes on to basically say that the Minister is “supported by” the Rural Secretariat, nothing specific is said about recommendations “that all memoranda to Cabinet include the Rural Secretariat’s analysis of the policy or program’s likely impact on rural Canada”

The Secretariat did however get “$45.6 million over four years ….. to continue its work”.

The Senates recommendation that the “government provide stable, long-term
funding to the Co-operatives Secretariat and the Co-operative Development Initiative.” Seems to have been met with some success in that “funding for CDI had been renewed and enhanced through to March 31, 2013 with a $19.1 million investment” It should be noted however that the Co-op’s supported by this initiative include housing co-ops (CDI has supported a number of co-operative housing projects over the years) and that the “Agricultural component of CDI, put in place in 2006” provided support to (only about) “60 new and emerging value-added agricultural co-ops” of the over 1500 co-op projects supported since 2003.

This in my view is one area that has enormous potential for the rural communities to enhance their economy and sustainability. Local co-ops processing local goods and employing local residents should be strongly encouraged and supported by all levels of government.
The senate specifically addressed rural TRANSPORTATION infrastructure and recommended that the “federal government should study how to coordinate existing rural transportation services into a flexible network …… and provide extra transportation services to rural citizens. The Governments response largely referred to generalized infrastructure funds available to municipalities across Canada including the “Building Canada Plan” the “GTF” (Gas Tax Fund). Nothing was said specifically about rural transportation issues or funding.

This funding to municipalities is indeed one of the better things coming out of this government and no doubt each municipality will use it as they see fit to benefit the “infrastructure” in their community. There is however a BIG gap in transportation infrastructure left by these programs and that is transportation outside of, and between, small towns and cities across Canada. Many of those in rural Canada have recently lost what for many was the ONLY means other than by private vehicle to travel to the nearest large urban area where all the services are increasingly being “centralized”.

The inter city (Greyhound and others) bus service may well need to be subsidized to keep running in some areas and given the recent initiatives by many larger communities to “get people out of their cars and on to public transportation” one would think that both Federal and Provincial governments would do so. In that such services cross municipal boundaries it is all but impossible for such support to come from individual municipalities, that previous governments allowed the sell off of our rail corridors now seems like a lost opportunity for modern intercity links.

There is lots more but I said in the last post that I would keep it short so I will make no further specific comments but will say that although I was very impressed with the Senate report I was singularly unimpressed with the governments response to it. It appears to me to be largely a document promoting existing programs (some going back 5 or more years), the 2009 budget of which so much was temporary “stimulus” and the contention that many of these issues are “not their problem” and should be addressed by other levels of government. I can see little new or good coming out of this response!

At last check a copy of this report still cannot be found on either the Parlimentry site or the Rural Secretariat site (it appears their efforts to make a text available there are being frustrated) it can however be found at Govresponse_ruralpov_eng_final.pdf

Friday, December 18, 2009

Fossil of the Year

We interrupt our series on our governments response to rural issues to highlight yet another area where we have been totally let down by our leaders.

"This afternoon, Canada was awarded the Colossal Fossil, a dubious honour given to the country that has accumulated the greatest number of Fossil of the Day awards. The latter is a shaming award recognizing the most obstructive countries at the negotiations on a daily basis."

“After snagging an impressive ten Fossil Of The Day awards, Canada has managed to attain the prestigious "Colossal Fossil" designation in Copenhagen. Canada wins Fossil of the Year, for the second year in a row.”

Meanwhile our PM is no where to be seen, not surprising given the ever decreasing respect that Canada is receiving from delegates and citizens at home and abroad on this issue.

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

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Response to the Beyond Freefall Report. (part1)

The Government of Canada recently responded the report of the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry, Beyond Freefall: Halting Rural Poverty, adopted by the Senate on June 18, 2009. Twenty-nine departments, agencies and Crown corporations contributed to the Government Response, giving careful consideration to the report's 68 recommendations.

Regular readers will know that I along with many others including municipalities from across Canada have praised this report both for its coverage of the issues and its recommendations. Full report here. I wish I could report that the government has acted upon these recommendations however from what I can see the response is largely a bit of PR for their much flaunted “Economic Action Plan” which by their own definition is a “temporary stimulus” and thus hardly addresses the real need for ongoing changes in rural support mechanisms.

A quick scan of this report reveals over 50 references to either the “Economic Action Plan” or “Budget 2009” each saying this is what we have done, unfortunately few of these things in said budget are specifically aimed at rural communities but are broader based “initiatives” from which those communities may receive some benefit. Much of the 2009 budget was dedicated to temporary stimulus measures and presumably will be discontinued in short order. The specific recommendations by enlarge do not seem to have been addressed. In short this seems to be a bit of PR writing intended to make it look like a lot has been done without actually doing anything!

One of the thing I find interesting is that there are several references to existing programs such as “In Budget 2003, the Government allocated $85 million over five years ” and “Funding over three years (2005-08) to…” leaving me to ask, “so what, this is going to help us how?” The words “the Government will” do appear a total of 7 times but 5 of those simply say “The Government of Canada will continue to work with” this agency or that one. I would bloody well hope so, that is after all your job, to work will all agency’s for the betterment of our population! Also of interest given this governments propensity to beat its own drum and the references to the “Action Plan”, is that nowhere in this document do the words “The Harper Government” appear. Could it be that they are not too proud of this one?

In June 2008 I said “From my point of view it was a good report (from the Senate) that clearly outlined some of the problems and offered some possible solutions, I am less optimistic about the report actually making any difference to government policy, be it with this particular bunch of arrogant partisans or any other of our elected representatives.”
As you may gather by now that I am not really impressed by this “response” there may be a few specks of gold in there somewhere but I have yet to find them. Many of those recommendations were more to do with non monetary support and changes to process to let us build our own economy and support systems back up, but these issues have received little attention.

Stay tuned, over the next week or two I will go though it clause by clause comparing it to the Senate recommendations, starting with those that I highlighted in my initial reaction to the Beyond Freefall report. If you wish to read this response you will have to contact the Rural Secretariat and ask for a copy. I am told they are “working on” providing an online copy but that the “government web 2.0 rules” are slowing this process down!

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

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Some lead some follow…

"The White House said the president had discussed the state of the negotiations (UN summit on climate change in Copenhagen) with Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown." BBC news

He would not need to consult PM Harper as he knows that Canada will just follow along with whatever the U.S. decides! With Obama “delaying” his attendance expect some changes in schedule from our Poopy dog.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

HST Protest & Sit in.

This from Owen Sound Radio News
“It has been a long night for Bruce Grey Owen Sound MPP Bill Murdoch as the Opposition continues to protest the HST. Murdoch and fellow Progressive Conservative Randy Hillier refused to leave the Ontario legislature yesterday (MON) and spent the night in the Chambers.
Murdoch was the first to be ordered out for calling the Premier a liar over the 13 per cent harmonized sales tax. But Murdoch wouldn't budge -- and other Tories came to his side to block any attempt to remove him.

(As a result of this) Finance Minister Dwight Duncan said the public would be able to comment this Thursday, but in Toronto -- and Murdoch says that is not good enough. “

Whilst some have decried the disruption of the legislature caused by the opposition Conservatives over this I want to publicly thank Bill for his effort. When a government becomes so arrogant as to ram through legislation without any effort to compromise, or in this case until now refuse to hold ANY public hearings, then the opposition is perhaps to be forgiven for “less than parliamentary” behavior. It matters not whether the government is a liberal one or a conservative one, a provincial one or a federal one, when they reach the point where they will not even ATTEMPT compromise and completely ignore requests for input from the general public on such an important issue as this, then they represent “the people” not rule them!

Well done Bill, you have listened to your constituents and acted in their best interests as you always do. “Callers to Bayshore Broadcasting (open line) overwhelmingly supported what Murdoch was doing at the Legislature to try and force the Provincial Government to hold public hearings on the HST outside of Toronto.”
I may not support your party but as one of the few politicians who truly tells it like it is and actually represents the people you serve I fully support you and your actions.

Note Bill “came to an agreement with the speaker” and left the chamber to “go home for a shower” after 2 days of protest. He is now not allowed back in the chamber until the next throne speech whenever that may occur. Given the amount of notice that the Provincial Liberals have been taking of the opposition and the general public of late ALL our MPs could be banned with little or no impact upon the daily regime.

Sorta reminds me of the situation in Ottawa. Democracy, what’s that?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Our Government at work – or not!

This from an article in the British newspaper The Guardian web-site written by George Monbiot should be of significant concern to every person in Canada. The article, entitled: Canada's image lies in tatters. It is now to climate what Japan is to whaling is a scathing indictment of Canada's horrid position and reputation when it comes to climate change, pollution, and action to curb an impending global environmental catastrophe. Its hard to disagree with him!

"When you think of Canada, which qualities come to mind? The world's peacekeeper, the friendly nation, a liberal counterweight to the harsher pieties of its southern neighbour, decent, civilised, fair, well-governed? Think again. This country's government is now behaving with all the sophistication of a chimpanzee's tea party. So amazingly destructive has Canada become, and so insistent have my Canadian friends been that I weigh into this fight, that I've broken my self-imposed ban on flying and come to Toronto.

So here I am, watching the astonishing spectacle of a beautiful, cultured nation turning itself into a corrupt petro-state. Canada is slipping down the development ladder, retreating from a complex, diverse economy towards dependence on a single primary resource, which happens to be the dirtiest commodity known to man. The price of this transition is the brutalisation of the country, and a government campaign against multilateralism as savage as any waged by George Bush.

Until now I believed that the nation that has done most to sabotage a new climate change agreement was the United States. I was wrong. The real villain is Canada. Unless we can stop it, the harm done by Canada in December 2009 will outweigh a century of good works." Read full article by clicking here....

Also see his plea to Canadians in today’s Globe and Mail: Please, Canada, clean up your act

T/H to Larry Hubich and Chris Tindal