Dion pledges money for farms, fighting crime during tour of Prairies

Stéphane Dion visited the Conservative-dominated provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan on Friday, promising a Liberal government would spend more than a billion dollars on supporting farms and millions to fight organized crime.

$1.2B promised for farms and $80M to tackle organized crime

Stéphane Dion visited the Conservative-dominated provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan on Friday, promising a Liberal government would spend more than a billion dollars to support farms and millions more to fight organized crime.

Campaigning in Manitoba farm country west of Winnipeg, the Liberal leader said his government would help farmers "play a crucial role within a more prosperous Canada, greener Canada" with a four-year $1.2-billion package.

"We need to have a strong partnership between our farmers and the federal government, and this will be true," Dion said. "We want our farmers to succeed not only for themselves, but for the entire country."

Dion's proposed measures include a $400-million tax credit for farms that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and a $250-million Green Farms Fund for farmers to invest in energy-efficient technology.

He also proposed a $564-million Regional Flexibility Fund to help farmers pay for environmental solutions, business risk management and production costs, and a $30-million program to promote local farmers' markets and homegrown foods.

Dion appeared with Saskatchewan Liberal MP Ralph Goodale, as well as star Liberal candidate Bob Friesen, a former farmer and one-time head of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture who is running against Conservative MP Steven Fletcher.

Dion also promised to restore full farmer control of the Canadian Wheat Board.

The Conservatives have sought to deliver on a 2006 campaign promise to end the Canadian Wheat Board's barley monopoly. Some producers support the plan, saying they deserve the right to try to seek higher prices for their grain by selling independently.

But critics — including other farmers, the federal Liberals and Manitoba's NDP government — argue the monopoly ensures producers get fair prices instead of competing against each other for sales.

"No government should decide [the] future of the wheat board," Dion said Friday. "Farmers should decide the future of the wheat board, period."

Platform stresses prevention, rehabilitation

At a later campaign stop in Regina, Dion also vowed to commit $80 million to a new fund to help police fight organized crime and gang violence.

The program would be administered by the RCMP in collaboration with the provinces.

The Liberals also announced a new gun violence and gang prevention fund to help keep at-risk youth from turning to crime, and new legislation to crack down on internet luring and cyberbullying.

"We should never consider the Criminal Code in isolation, it must be part of an overall plan from prevention to rehabilitation," said Dion as he introduced a star Liberal candidate, former Regina police chief Cal Johnston. He's running in the southwestern Regina riding of Palliser.

"Sentences must be based on the best approach to fighting crime; it should not be based on fear or the rhetoric of politicians desperate for votes."

Though statistics show crime rates are declining nationwide, Dion said, that doesn't mean governments can be complacent. "All Canadians have the right to feel safe in their communities."

With files from the Canadian Press