The office in St-Pierre-Jolys was one of two designated bilingual locations in the province, Raymond Maynard said
By Diego Flammini
The mayor of a rural Manitoba community is concerned about how a provincial government decision will affect his constituents going forward.
In January, Agriculture and Resource Development Minister Blaine Pedersen announced the closure of 21 Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation (MASC) offices as part of a new rural service delivery model.
These closures, which begin April 1, include the MASC offices in St-Pierre-Jolys and Somerset, which offered services in French.
The provincial government’s decision to close these 21 offices will have domino effects on their respective communities, said Raymond Maynard, mayor of St-Pierre-Jolys.
The location on Sabourin St. has been helping local farmers with crop insurance and providing other services since 1931.
“Our office in town is one of only two in the province designated as bilingual,” Maynard told Farms.com. “We’re a French community and we have a lot of French farmers in this community. The main concerns now are these farmers have to travel long distances to access services and there’s no guarantee they can receive them in French.”
Local producers could be at the MASC office in town in under five minutes, Maynard said. Now, farmers are going to have to choose between offices located in other communities.
The closest ones are in Steinbach or Winnipeg. Those round trips can eat up a farmer’s time, Maynard said.
“If you’re talking about going to Winnipeg, you can bank on an hour-and-a-half just to go to Winnipeg and do your business,” Maynard said. “Then you’ve got to factor in the return drive, and we know how valuable a farmer’s time can be.”
On top of the time issue, the local economy will suffer too.
With farmers having to travel out of town to access MASC services, there’s a likelihood they’ll be spending money outside of St-Pierre-Jolys as well, Maynard said.
“By the provincial government closing these offices, you’re taking money out of these communities,” he said. “If a farmer has to go to Winnipeg, maybe they’ll get gas in Winnipeg or get something to eat or pick up groceries while they’re there. Closing these offices is a much bigger issue than just losing the MASC services.”
Maynard and other representatives from bilingual communities have voiced their concerns to Minister Pedersen.
On Jan. 29, the Association of Manitoba Bilingual Municipalities sent a letter to the minister outlining how the office closures may be against provincial law and asking him to reconsider his decision.
“This decision by the Province is contrary to the principle of Progress under The Francophone Community Enhancement and Support Act adopted by the current government,” the letter states. “In fact, the disappearance of three agricultural service centres designated bilingual and/or including designated bilingual positions is a historic step backwards for the Province in terms of offering services in French to the Manitoba public.”
Pedersen has not yet responded to the organization, Maynard said.