Council approves terms of reference for farming assistance ad hoc committee

(Gazette file photo)




While some continued to share doubts about the endeavour, council firmed up terms of reference and membership for the farming assistance ad hoc committee Tuesday.

The new committee will be composed of the bulk of the membership of the current agricultural advisory committee with the exception of councillor David Harrison who declined to sit on the ad hoc committee. In his stead will be councillor Bill Roberts. A member of the National Farmers Union will also sit on the committee.

The ad hoc committee will research financial assistance programs offered by neighbouring municipalities and other municipalities in the province, as well as any grants and methods of financial assistance that are available through the provincial and federal governments or other agricultural agencies. The ad hoc committee will also recommend to council a grant program including eligibility requirements, an application process, funding thresholds and anticipated benefits with a goal of providing financial assistance per eligible farmer not to exceed 20 per cent of their annual municipal farm tax bill. The committee will seek to craft a program with an application process that isn’t unduly intrusive and has no cost to the applicant. The ad hoc committee is expected to report back to committee of the whole with recommendations to assist new and young farmers no later than July 12.

The terms of reference, which had previously come before councillors at their April 12 committee-of-the-whole meeting, came back to council Tuesday with recommendations from the agricultural advisory committee. Council went through the recommendations one by one with several being decided by recorded votes. Just one recommendation failed to pass. That was a recommendation to remove the research component of the ad hoc committee’s scope of work, which failed in 7–7 vote.

Councillor Brad Nieman was among those who supported moving forward with the committee.

“There are a lot of unknowns right now and part of the committee’s job is to find out what those unknowns are so that they can be addressed,” he said.

He said the financial assistance program has to be both credible and flexible. He said the agricultural advisory committee members have a lot of experience, are all farmers, and would be capable of bringing back workable solutions.

“They’ve shown what they can do with the LEAR (Land Evaluation and Area Review) study and the amount of work they did with the LEAR study,” he said.

While some councillors questioned having no broader public or residential representation on the ad hoc committee, Maynard said it makes sense to move forward members of the existing advisory body.

“If you’re going to have an advisory committee, you need to put your support behind them that they will be able to take on this task and, most importantly, that they’ll be able to take on this task in a timely manner,” she said.

She suggested with members of the agricultural advisory committee forming the bulk of the ad hoc committee, a recommendation could come back in roughly the same amount of time it would take to form a wholly new committee.

“You’ve got the right committee to do it, they are now committed to finding some resolution to this issue,” she said. “…I’ve heard lots of criticisms, but I haven’t heard anybody else come up with a better plan to get to where we want to be.”

While council ultimately approved the ad hoc committee’s scope of activities, they were again met with some skepticism from several councillors.

Councillor Jamie Forrester questioned using the ad hoc committee’s time to research existing financial support programs and said there isn’t any budget to provide financial assistance in any event.

“I will not be supporting any part of this motion,” he said.

Councillor Steve Graham said he had some reservations about moving forward with the committee.

“I’m starting to second guess the whole idea of this,” he said.

He questioned what the budget might be for the program and whether it was worth the effort.

“I really don’t know if we’re wasting eight people’s time to help four or five farmers that need assistance,” he said. “I don’t get it at this point, there’s no number attached to it.”

Councillor David Harrison said there’s no funding in the budget to support a grant program and said he wasn’t in favour of how the committee is set up. He said he wished to stay on with the agricultural advisory committee, but didn’t want to join the ad hoc committee.

“This is not thought out, it’s going to turn into a waste of time and waste of staff time,” he said.

The nine-member committee will consist of councillors Roberts, Maynard and Nieman, public members Margaret Kerr, Angela Miller, Robert Peck, John Thompson, and Robert Williams in addition to a member of the National Farmers Union.

While the committee will craft recommendations for a potential funding program, those will still have to be approved by council.