Thursday, March 8, 2012

Taxpayer federation slams tobacco buyout

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation has singled out the federal government’s buyout program for tobacco farmers as the biggest waste of government money.

The federation chooses an award winner every year and this time it is the $284 million Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada spent in fiscal 2008-09 to buy out quota holders.

The federation is far from the first to identify problems with the program. A number of appeals to the Ontario Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Tribunal revealed chaotic conditions in the final weeks before the program was officially launched.

But it's hardly the federal agriculture department that deserves blame; it's the farmers who set out to scam the program.

It’s clear that many families schemed to find ways to take the buyout money but continue growing tobascco and that’s what the Canadian Taxpayers Federation has identified as the reason for picking the program as the biggest waste of government money.

Smoking the government, big time!
The province was urged to join the program on a 60:40 funding ratio, but declined to put up its 40 per cent.

The taxpayer federation’s director, Gregory Thomas, called the department the top-cat of tobacco.

“More than half the 1,000 recipients of fat federal cheques were not actually active tobacco farmers,” he said.

Some farmers ended up taking money to get out of the business, then shifted their land and equipment to relatives who kept on growing tobacco.

Tobacco production doubled the next year, the auditor general found in a report last year, and there were more farmers growing tobacco than before the buyout.

That’s hardly surprising because nobody needs to buy quota now.

A spokesperson for Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said the program is under review. Really? Locking the vault now that the money's gone?

“This program’s parameters include an audit to ensure that provincial tobacco licences have not been issued to participants,” Meagan Murdoch wrote in an e-mail. 

Well, Ms Murdoch, you can check the licences, but I doubt you're going to find any issued in the names of those who took the buyout. Their sons? Their brothers and sisters? Their friends? Maybe.

“If the audit shows that any recipients violated any of these terms and conditions, they will be forced to repay the full amount with interest,” she said.

That and $2 will get you a cup of coffee.

It’s the 14th year that the federation has handed out the awards, nicknamed the Teddies after a bureaucrat infamous for extravagant expense claims.

The awards are gilded pig statuettes awarded in four categories; municipal waste, provincial waste, federal waste and lifetime achievement.

While it might read like a huge scam in urban areas, the buyout of tobacco quota is defensible. After all, about half of their market had been stolen by the black market which the federal government is responsible to eliminate.