By Michele Beaton, MLA District 5 Mermaid-Stratford
Official Opposition Critic for Agriculture and Land
It has been said there is no room for politics during a pandemic. I agree. However, there is always a place for public oversight and accountability, even during a crisis. In response to the threats posed by COVID-19, the government has rolled out program after program with information on how, when, and for whom such supports will be made available..
The $4.7M questions
Last week, Minister of Agriculture, Bloyce Thompson, announced $4.7 million of funding to the PEI Potato Board. This announcement of this funding was done differently. When it was announced, only a vague description with no follow-up information provided. This lack of transparency is leaving Islanders with a lot of questions.
Did this funding go directly to the farmers or did it go to the potato processors? If it went to the processors, why? Did they have to make commitments to guarantee the viability of their contract farmers? Were farmers consulted as to what they thought the funding should be used for? I believe Minister Thompson needs to answer these questions.
All Island farmers need support
While potatoes are an important economic driver on PEI, there are a broad range of producers on PEI besides potato farmers who also need support during these difficult times. If our desire is to have long-term sustainable agriculture and a secure food system, it is crucial we also support small and medium sized farms, and to also encourage diversification of crops.
Without clear answers regarding the purpose of the funding, Islanders are fearing government may be supporting monoculture over diversity, and large processors over individual farmers. This is not in the best interest of Island farmers, rural communities, or the health and well-being of all Islanders.
Successfully responding to COVID-19 with programs and supports isn’t about choosing winners. It’s about making sure no one gets left behind.