Taxpayers in Manitoba had better get ready to dig deeper. Our provincial government has just relaxed the rules so the hog industry can expand. And, given past history, more corporate welfare will, surely, soon be flowing again into the trough for producers.
I’ve compiled a probably-incomplete history of largesse which has already been bestowed upon factory barn operators in just the past ten years.
According to Town of Neepawa bylaws, the three levels of government agreed in 2007, to help Springhill Farms (HyLife’s forerunner) pay for a wastewater treatment plant, costing more than $8 million. While it would treat the sewage from the town’s 3,000 human residents, it would mainly help Springhill meet the province’s clean water standards, by dealing with the blood, hair, manure and offal from the pigs being slaughtered there at the time. Springhill and Neepawa taxpayers would each chip in $1.5 million. Even churches, which would normally be exempt, had to step up. Taxpayers at the federal and provincial level together put up the rest - over $5 million.
In Hogs We Trust - Part 111 "Animal diseases devastate herds, worldwide."
Then, the same year as HyLife’s treatment plant costs were skyrocketing, along came the Feds with the “daddy” of all bailouts (for pork producers across the country). At the urging of the Canadian Pork Council (CPC), the industry’s lobby group, Ottawa stepped in with two separate loan programs totalling almost $500 million. One, with a budget of more than $400 million, was designed to make it easier for “viable operators” to get long-term loans. These do not have to be repaid until 2024, another seven years.
The other was aimed at helping producers deal with the "oversupply" problem (too many hogs for the market to handle). It allowed them to borrow more than $82 million dollars, but only if they agreed to get out of the business, altogether, and stay out for at least three years. It is estimated that more than four million pigs were "removed" as a result.
A government evaluation found the programs were "mostly effective" in achieving their goals.
My attempts to clarify this question with some certainty with the government have gone unanswered, so far.
Just weeks ago, it was revealed in the so-called Paradise Papers that the same Maple Leaf Foods owns an offshore company, the kind often designed to avoid paying taxes at home. (A truly "win-win" for the corporation - a "lose-lose" for the rest of us.)
So, by my count, government assistance of some sort has happened on at least ten occasions over the past ten years, totalling well over half-a-billion dollars.
If one extrapolates the frequency of such handouts and projects them into the future, it is not unlikely we can expect the next one, in one form or another, in a year or so!
Larry Powell, a journalist, lives in Shoal Lake, where he publishes www.PlanetInPeril.ca
RELATED: "In Hogs We Trust." Part 1: Could the Manitoba government’s return to a deregulated hog industry actually contribute to a world health crisis?"