Opinion Column

Ag Society funding exposes policy failure

Ron Orr is the MLA for Lacombe-Ponoka

By Ron Orr, MLA Lacombe-Ponoka

Agricultural Societies have just experienced a life support crisis.


It exposes a serious flaw in the governments funding model for community support non-profit societies.

As the Calgary Herald recently said, The custodians of a plethora of rural hockey rinks, community halls, farmers’ markets, fairs and rodeos were left wondering whether they would see operating grants this year. (http://calgaryherald.com/news/politics/government-cash-delay-rankles-alberta-agriculturesocieties/wcm/22a92765-87ea-43f4-8bf3-2b14456e7663)

Many community organizations provide important services to the community: youth, special needs, sports, culture, seniors programs and many others.

The government often provides a base operating funding for these organizations. They fundraise for the rest.

The base operational funding is essential but totally unreliable because it is allocated via an annual grant process.

This is fraught with many problems:

1. The organizations never know how much they will get and so cannot plan, cannot make long-term commitments. The province keeps them in utter dependency this way.

2. Thousands of hours and dollars have to go into writing applications for grants eroding the non-profits resource base. And the province has to pay for many hours every year just to process the applications.

3. The government often is incapable of meeting their deadlines to manage the complex process and so too often societies do not get their money until months into their financial year, often pushing them to the brink of bankruptcy. This just occurred with the Ag Societies. They should have had their money in June, as of writing they still don’t have it. The governmentt gives out nice platitudes but no money and we are three months into their year.

4. This creates incredible stress and anxiety for volunteers and citizens who do not know if their community services will even survive.

Your official UCP opposition members have spoken out on behalf of Ag Societies and indeed all other community societies that cannot make payments, plan for the future or be effective in their work because of this dysfunctional practice.

We will continue to be hard at work defending the interests of everyday Albertans who rely on Agricultural Societies to add vibrancy and events to their communities.

I would like to suggest that there is a much better model.

These annual grants should be converted to five-year service contracts. The exact expectations could be spelled out.

The government could manage their spending and budgets better by not handing out candy budgets willy nilly every year. They might even get to a balanced budget.

The application and administrative costs to societies and the province would go down.

Societies would have one of their biggest difficulties resolved; they would be able to budget and plan for the future. Even if it was less money, many say the stability thus provided would be very welcome.

What do you think?

I want to hear from you. If you have any questions, concerns or comments, feel free to contact my constituency office at (403)782-7725 or Lacombe.ponoka@assembly.ab.ca or drop into the office which is located at 101, 4892 46 street Lacombe, T4L 2B4. 

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