Atlantic Beef & Sheep Letters Summer 2018

Questions about NBCP’s levy increase, plebiscite

    As a beef producer from New Brunswick, the levy increase issue has been front and centre for sometime. The N.B. Cattle Producer’s (NBCP) column in Atlantic Beef and Sheep’s spring issue stated: “Legal issues resolved ... clearing the way for a levy increase from $3 to $6 per head.” But have they?
    The NBCP has, and continues to face multiple appeals to the N.B. Farm Products Commission in regards to the levy increase and other issues. NBCP has stated that the national portion of the levy increase from $1 to $2.50 as being the reason the increase was coming no matter what; we had no choice in that. So it was of great interest to me when the announcement came that a Town Hall on the levy was going to occur the Thursday night before the Maritime Beef Conference.
    I eagerly awaited the evening and was not disappointed with the various presenters from the national associations describing where and how the national portion of the levy is divided and used. It was a very well done presentation. But I was thoroughly disappointed when a mere 20 minutes was allotted for questions. I mean, if you’re going to bill an event as a Town Hall, shouldn’t the focus be on producer engagement, asking questions, and not spending time trying to sell the merits of the levy?
    During the first of two 10-minute question breaks there were some dairymen that got up and questioned the levy of $6 on bob calves that sometimes are only worth $20. Sounds reasonable. Then I was given a minute at the mic. The first presenter had a slide stating, “How did we get here?” referring to the $6 levy. The first line on the next slide had the words: “Producers vote at provincial level.” So I asked, “When did N.B. cattle producers get a vote?”
    The response from the chairman of the NBCP was long and drawn out, but the answer was N.B. producers did not get a vote on the levy increase; the board of the NBCP decided the levy amount themselves.
    So okay, the Farm Products Commission did side with the NBCP on an appeal stating the board of the NBCP did not require a producer vote on levy matters. But it still rubs a person the wrong way when a national association gets up in front of producers and says you had a vote, when we did not.
    The first presenter also showed a breakdown of the national levy portion of $2.50 in the Maritimes. Thirty percent (equalling .75 cents) goes to Canada Beef, another 30 percent goes to the Beef Cattle Research Council, while the remaining 40 percent (equalling $1) goes to provincial initiatives. 
    This took me by surprise as the NBCP projected 2018 budget has a dollar figure much higher than the 40 percent allocated for provincial initiatives. So I asked why that figure was so high? The response from the NBCP’s strategic advisor was a convoluted answer that would have one believe they (NBCP) are only keeping 40 percent of the national portion. But in reality they keep the 40 percent, pay forward the 60 percent to the national level, then ask and receive back the majority to use for provincial initiatives. 
    So as one can see, producers are being duped into believing $3.50 is provincial and $2.50 is national when in fact the majority, a total of 94 percent equalling $5.64 of the $6, is being used to fund the NBCP. Which begs the question, where is the money going? There are no new funds for producer programs, (only the) same ones as before, so where is the increase going? As far as I can see, the majority is going to increase spending on consultants. Is that what we really need to fund? If so, we as producers should see double the improvement of service from the NBCP, as producers are being told to pay double the previous levy.
    On the matter of the plebiscite held in 2016, while the N.B. Farm Products Commission did side with the NBCP on the matter, they also made a recommendation that the NBCP return to producers and further consult them on the issues in the plebiscite. No such consultation has yet (April 16) to occur, and with the tone of their spring column in Atlantic Beef and Sheep, it would seem they have no interest in following that recommendation made in January of 2017.
    Why? Maybe it’s because if put to producers in a multiple question form instead of the government style omnibus, they would not get the results they would like. Is it unreasonable to ask that each issue/matter have its own yes or no question, instead of placing all five issues in one question?
    If the NBCP would like to see more producer engagement and an end brought to the many appeals filed against them, maybe they could learn that a solid foundation of trust and respect is needed to be in place before they can barge forward with their agenda. Some good starting points would be to follow the Farm Products Commission’s recommendation: tell producers the truth of where their levy money is going, not this 60/40 lie; and to remember they exist to represent “all” cattle producers’ interests, not that producers exist to fund the NBCP’s interests.
    I would encourage fellow cattle producers in the rest of the Maritimes to also look and ask where their levy dollars are going, as all three provinces seem to have taken a cookie-cutter approach to this levy increase. It would not surprise me if N.S. and P.E.I. are also keeping more (levy money) then they are leading everyone to believe.
    P.S. I was very disappointed to read the NBCP column in the spring issue where it stated: “The NBCP held a plebiscite vote in 2016 in which members agreed to a levy increase from $3 to $6.” A totally false statement. After reading that I called the office of the NBCP and asked for a retraction/correction on this false information. This issue (of ABS) will tell if the NBCP will do so.
Karl Piper, 
Queenstown, N.B.