The PEI Agriculture Sector Council is trying to figure out what programs it will be able to offer in the future as it deals with the impact of two budget cuts.
Executive Director Laurie Loane explained the first cutback was expected. The federal government is reducing dollars under the Labour Market Agreement, and she noted government officials have warned another cutback will be coming next year.
Just as the council was trying to cope with that reality, they received word from the province in late July funding for all nine sector councils were being cut 36 per cent. The cuts were part of the provincial budget, which wasn't presented until July this year due to the may 4 election. Loane said that means the council was almost halfway through its fiscal year when the budget axe fell.
"There is no way we can absorb that kind of a cut without cutting back on the services we provide to industry," she said. "We are a non-profit and we are just trying to run programs on a break-even basis."
She explained there are currently employment officers in Charlottetown and Summerside, helping to match up producers looking for workers with potential employees. In 2014, the employment service posted 397 jobs, had 330 new employers, 217 new employees and 871 repeat employees that used the service.
Loane noted human resource issues are one of the major challenges facing the industry, not just in PEI but right across the country. She asked "if we are not here to be able to support these services, it poses the question “Who will be?”
The farm apprenticeship program, which was started by the council and is the first of its kind in the country, was near its capacity for the first time last year and interest has been high for the next class. She said several other provinces are now looking at setting up their own programs based on the Island model and "we are not sure whether our program is going to survive."
The executive director noted the move flies in the face of plans to turn PEI into Canada's Food island. She explained "For us to be “Canada’s Food Island”, we need agriculture. If the council is no longer here to support training, careers, projects, Agriculture Job Bank, Farm Technician Apprenticeship Recruitment, Dairy Relief Milker Training, Class 3 A Driving training and much more than who is going to take on these responsibilities? "
Loane said they have sent out letters to their partners and all of the commodity organizations and farm groups that have representatives on the council asking for their support.
She noted the council is further hampered by the fact it can't access funding under the Growing Forward 2 program -- something that can happen in every other province and territory. That is due to the wording in the agreement negotiated between Ottawa and the province. While there is a general template,Ottawa cuts a separate agreement with each of the provinces.
Loane said she has asked Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Alan McIsaac and members of his staff to explore the possibility of having that changed. As well, staff and board members are meeting to plan what services will have to be curtailed or eliminated in the event the cuts are not reversed.
They are also working with the other sector councils in attempting to set up a joint meeting with Workforce and Advanced learning Minister Richard Brown, whose department is responsible for core funding to the nine councils. The other groups involved are Culture P.E.I., Innovation and Technology Association of P.E.I., Aerospace P.E.I., P.E.I. BioAlliance, P.E.I. Health Sector Council, P.E.I. Trucking Sector Council, Tourism Industry Association of P.E.I. and Canadian Home Builders Association.