Paon and Colwell spar over farmer frost losses

HALIFAX: Cape Breton-Richmond MLA Alana Paon is happy farmers have an assurance their applications for compensation through the Frost Loss Program will be looked at, even if the documents aren’t fully completed.

However, she’s not pleased with how the provincial government handled setting up the program.

“It’s because of the amount of time given to the farmers,” she said, explaining the reason for her disgruntlement.

She noted the Department of Agriculture announced the Frost Loss Program on February 25 and the deadline for application was March 15.

“It’s difficult to get the paperwork completed in time, and this is a situation the minister has known about since June of 2018.

“As much as I can appreciate that it takes time to evaluate the numbers, it seems only giving farmers three weeks to apply for something that is a $34 million problem to our economy is something that, to be perfectly frank, is disrespectful.”

On March 15, Paon received an assurance from Minister of Agriculture Keith Colwell that incomplete applications will be processed. His statement came during question period when Paon stated that through a Freedom of Information request, the PC Caucus learned that Colwell was briefed on farmers’ financial losses due to frost as early as June 6, 2018.

The minister stood by the work of his department. He also suggested farmers were made aware of the program promptly, once it was announced.

“It took a long time for the industry and our staff to evaluate the proper damage that was done by the severe frost and freeze, and there was a short window to apply,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of applications and we’re working with them.

“We notified the Federation of Agriculture, and they notified all their members. We notified all the farming communities, so someone who only found out last week either didn’t read their e-mails or watch what was going on.”

Paon was displeased with the delay in action. She noted that communicating by e-mail is itself problematic, given the lack of Internet service in rural Nova Scotia.

“I know that Perennia, the Crown Corporation of the government, works very closely as an extension arm of the Department of Agriculture, were briefing the minister on June 6, so there was information coming in,” she said.

“I find it very difficult to imagine it would take eight months to figure out how much loss occurred.”