A Made-in-Manitoba Tragedy of the Commons

By Lynne Fernandez

In February, a provincial news release about changes to agricultural crown lands advised that “The Manitoba government has launched a consultation focused on agricultural Crown lands, to ensure upcoming policy changes reflect the views of the livestock industry while improving fairness and transparency in the system […]”.
How will these changes affect the Community Pastures Program, part of what was the federal government’s Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration initiative? Referred to as “Canada’s greatest success story” – the program started in 1935 to deal with the devastation the Dust Bowl brought to the southern prairies. It included initiatives to deal with erosion, water access, irrigation and grass management through the Community Pastures Programs. These pastures are found in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba and cover over 2 million acres in total.
This program gave farmers and ranchers access to valuable public land which benefitted from the cattle’s natural grazing behaviour. Pasture managers were trained in soil and water conservation and native plant management and understood the crucial role these processes play in protecting the endangered species that live on these ancient ecosystems. As reported in the Globe and Mail:

As rare and ecologically important as coastal old-growth forest, the PFRA grasslands are listed by the World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) as lands that Canada has made a commitment to protect.

The Harper government axed the program in 2012, and control of the pastures was ceded to Saskatchewan and Manitoba (Alberta’s were always under provincial control). Although Saskatchewan’s Agricultural Minister claimed in 2013 that there would be a requirement that the pastures would have to remain whole (no cultivation; no drainage), many were worried about a lack of regulation and enforcement of these stipulations.
Manitoba’s 400,000 acres fell under the control of the provincial government which continued renting them out to patrons under the management of a non-profit organization – the Association of Manitoba Community Pastures (AMCP). Trained pasture managers stayed on staff with the AMCP. The NDP government of the day agreed to support the program, understanding that the pastures help the province fight climate change and protect biodiversity. It pledged over a million dollars to the project.
In order to understand the current government’s commitment to ‘modernize’ the program, we have to unpack a couple of the purported improvements highlighted in the consultation backgrounder. The first one concerns “facilitating interprovincial trade, and complying with the principles of the New West Trade Partnership Agreement and the Canadian Free Trade Agreement” (CFTA).
Manitoba signed on to the New West Trade Partnership Agreement soon after the Pallister government took power. Although the agreement ostensibly lowers trade barriers between the provinces, critics argue that such barriers are few and far-between and that its primary purpose is to streamline industry, labour and environmental regulations to the lowest possible denominator. The CFTA came into effect in July, 2017, also with the promise to harmonize regulations across the country, and with international trade agreements like the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) with the European Union. Agreements like CETA are notoriously pro-business to the detriment of environmental protection and the interests of dairy and poultry producers.
In the case of the community pastures, regulatory harmonization is a real problem. Saskatchewan recently completely abandoned its community pasture program, stating that “We don’t believe that looking after privately owned cattle is a core function of government”. This statement from Saskatchewan’s Agriculture Minister demonstrates a lack of understanding of the full purpose of the program, adding to what seems to be a long running disregard for the prairie ecosystem. A blog by prairie naturalist Trevor Harriet explains that “the Saskatchewan Party has sold 1.1M acres of crown lands in the prairie ecozone”. It is not clear how the pastures will be regulated once the province has fully withdrawn.
Talking to Manitoba cattle producers who support the current program revealed that concerns go beyond the loss of environmental stewardship. The stated goal of “removing the previous requirement that applicants had to be Manitoba residents” opens up the possibility that cattle will be shipped in from other provinces, then shipped home for processing, leaving no economic value added for Manitoba.
Changes will also remove the advantage currently given to younger Manitoba producers who need access to crown lands to build their herds. The modified application process will favour the wealthiest producers who can put in the highest bid, allowing out-of-province producers with deep pockets to elbow out younger producers of more modest means. There are concerns that the desire to “modernize” the program will result in more intensive cattle production that is controlled by big business, and that small producers will fall victim to corporate farming the same way other agricultural producers have.
Finally, these changes fly in the face of economic reasoning. Cattle over-production is causing prices to fall, but the province is ushering in changes so cattle production can expand. And such expansion could put pressure on less agriculturally productive areas such as marsh and/or scrub land that needs to be protected so it can continue providing important environmental services.
Many worry that changes to the Community Pastures Program will be a variation of a familiar theme: the tragedy of the commons. That becomes clear in reading the March 2018 report by the International Institute for Sustainable Development, which concluded that:

Community Pastures were a policy response in a time of crisis. The pastures provide patrons with tangible benefits to their operations, yet the sustainable management practices used have provided benefits to the wider society. Some of these benefits are only now becoming valued by society through policy: carbon sequestration, for example, was until recently a benefit without clear value, yet in the near future the mitigation potential of pastures and other uncultivated landscapes could reach a broader audience and inform understanding of the complete value of these places.

Climate change and species extinction represent the greatest crises facing us today. Hopefully Manitoba’s government will show more leadership than Saskatchewan’s, and protect these lands for future generations.

Lynne Fernandez holds the Errol Black Chair in Labour Issues at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, MB

Job posting: Child Care Researcher and Engagement

 Summer Job Posting

Posted May 3, 2018

Tasks and Responsibilities

Goal: to summarize and share important research on child care in Manitoba with potential allies with the end goal of strengthening not-for profit child care sector


  • Summarize existing research on Manitoba’s child care system and the current policy environment, with a focus on child development and economic impact studies
  • Develop accessible tools for use by boards of child care centres, workplaces and other potential allies on the important role of child care for children, parents and the workforce – ie. One-pagers, memes, infographics, short video
  • Post these tools on relevant partner websites


  • Secondary literature review
  • Strong written communications skills and ability to write in populist, plain language
  • Knowledge of programs for the creation of memes and attractive materials such as InDesign
  • Knowledge of social media platforms (facebook, twitter, instagram)


  • Supervised by CCPA MB director and advised by Child Care Coalition of Manitoba committee

Level of education

  • Senior undergraduate student in Sociology, Social Work, Political and Cultural Studies, Creative Communications or student.

Priority will be given to students who identify as Indigenous, with a disability or from a visible minority. Student must be in enrolled in education full time.

Contract amount: 35 hours a week for 9.5 weeks @ $14.15/h

Start date: ASAP

Please submit resume to ccpamb@policyalternatives.ca by May 11, 4 pm. Please include your resume and cover letter and include the job description: Child Care Research and Engagement in the ‘subject line’ of your email.

Funding in part from Canada Summer Jobs!

Winnipeg Without Poverty: Calling on the City to Lead

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE [May 2, 2018]: Make Poverty History Manitoba launched it’s city poverty reduction plan Winnipeg Without Poverty: Calling on the City to Lead at 10am, May 2.

This report, endorsed by more than 90 organizations, calls on Winnipeg’s Mayor to be a champion for poverty reduction and commit to leading the development of a comprehensive poverty reduction plan. Up to 107,000 Winnipeggers are living in poverty. Read More

Justice system lacking fairness

By John Hutton,

Almost half of the people in Manitoba agree there is a problem with the Canadian justice system when it comes to treatment of Indigenous Peoples according to a recent report in the Winnipeg Free Press (“Manitobans divided on justice system,” April 16, 2018). Like many problems, it’s complex and the way to resolution starts with understanding the many issues. Read More

Merchants Corner Grand Opening April 28

A community’s Vision Comes to Life

Join us at this new community hub!

Saturday, April 28  11am – 4 pm, 11:30 – 12:00 Greetings and remarks

541 Selkirk Ave.


He Had a Dream

By Jim Silver

Fifty years ago, April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis Tennessee. James Earl Ray was convicted, but as Angela Davis said, “racism was Martin Luther King’s assassin.” Read More

Budget 2018: The Most Disappointing Budget Ever

By Lynne Fernandez

Premier Pallister’s Trump-esque statement that budget 2018 was going to be the “best budget ever” has fallen a bit flat. Read More

Subsidized Housing With Supports Needs More Supports: Lesson from WestEnd Commons

By Jess Klassen

Stable and affordable housing is a central component in improving people’s quality of life. In light of a severe housing shortage facing low-income renters, it is clear that Manitoba has work to do to ensure that all citizens have access to a warm and secure place to live. A successful housing model in Winnipeg deserves attention – it couples subsidized housing with social supports in order to help families to thrive. This model has seen success in Winnipeg’s North End through the transformation of the public housing complex Lord Selkirk Park, and through the housing and wrap-around supports provided to newcomers in two locations of IRCOM House in Winnipeg’s inner-city. Read More

Government’s Directives is No Excuse: Labour rights prevail

By Janet Morrill

First published in the Winnipeg Free Press February 9, 2018

On January 29, 2018, the Manitoba Labour Board issued its ruling in favour of the University of Manitoba Faculty Association (UMFA) in the unfair labour practice (ULP) filed against the University of Manitoba (UM) in connection with a round of collective bargaining that included a three-week strike. Read More

Labour and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms: 35 years of experience

By Paul Moist and Garth Smorang

In April 1982 the Constitution Act was proclaimed. It included the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The Charter protects Canadians’ political and civil rights. It enumerates a range of fundamental freedoms, including freedom of association, religion and the press. It also guarantees certain democratic rights, such as the right to vote, mobility rights, legal, equality and language rights. Read More