Auditor slams waste in $284-million federal tobacco program

The auditor-general says a $284-million program to get Ontario farmers out of the tobacco-growing business became a confusing fiasco.

Interim Auditor-General John Wiersema says the 2008-2009 Tobacco Transition Program was not well-planned and the department got flim-flammed.

More than half the people who received money weren’t active tobacco farmers at the time, although they were entitled to grow it under the quota system run by the provincial Tobacco Marketing Board.

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 report says Agriculture Canada tried to change the rules to stop some of this, but that just caused more confusion.

The audit says Agriculture did not anticipate the problems that arose and that producers didn’t understand the purposes of the program.

Agriculture Canada relied on the provincial marketing board to deliver the program, but the audit said that was a conflict of interest because the board is supposed to represent the interests of tobacco farmers.

“The department had to develop the Tobacco Transition Program within a short time frame and did not first conduct a thorough risk analysis,” the audit said.

“The agreement implementing the program did not provide clear terms and conditions to ensure that recipients would not enter into business arrangements that would undermine the intent of the program.”

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