COLLINGWOOD - A local beef producer is concerned the new NDP government is reneging on what he feels was a $2-million commitment made by the previous Conserative administration.
"Just before the election, (Cumberland South MLA) Murray Scott and agriculture minister Mark Parent had approved $2 million in short-term support for the beef industry with the money coming from agriculture and economic and rural development. Now the NDP is saying that it was not a commitment and aren't providing the funding," Kurt Sherman said.
Sherman said Agriculture Minister John MacDonell committed during an agriculture debate in Port Williams to recognize pledges made by the Conservatives.
When the commitment was made, there wasn't any money remaining in the agriculture budget to help the farmers, but Sherman, an executive with the Nova Scotia Cattle Producers Assocation, said Scott looked into providing funding through his department's Rural Communities Development Trust Fund.
While there were letters of support from Scott and Parent, the committee overseeing the fund didn't get to complete the paperwork because the Tory government fell.
"Two million dollars is just peanuts, but if we don't get any peanuts we'll be out of business," Sherman said.
"My own situation is not improving. I'm just an example of what's being faced by the industry."
He said government keeps saying it's working on a long-term strategy, but he wonders what good would such a strategy be if there are no farmers left.
MacDonell said the pledge was not officially a government commitment. Still, that doesn't mean his government is abandoning the industry.
"It wasn't a government commitment. It was a letter written by the former minister on June 1, the day of the debate in Port Williams," the minister said.
"I was asked if I would support the government's commitments and I said yes. The minister wrote the letter saying he was going to give $2 million from the trust fund, but he was committing money he couldn't write a cheque for."
MacDonell said Parent's proposal never made it to cabinet for approval before the previous government fell. The minister said he has met with the cattle producers association and has asked them to make a proposal that he can act on.
"If it's possible I can help, I'll go back to my department to see if it's possible to find something to help the industry out," MacDonell said, adding he's not interested in simply writing cheques without a plan.
"We're trying to find a way to make it happen and we're trying to find a strategic way in which to do it."
He also feels the $2 million won't have much of an impact on individual farmers and believes there has to be a better way to support the industry so it's there for years, not weeks or months.
Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil believes the Conservative commitment should have been upheld by the NDP government.
"We've been following this though the election campaign with our critic Leo Glavine and feel this is a government commitment. Now they're suggesting the commitment wasn't there and they're looking for another way," McNeil said.
"If we don't respond quickly, we're on the verge of allowing the beef industry to become the next hog industry. There are people out there suffering and they can't wait for this political back-and-forth."