|OTTAWA - Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin plans to announce C$1 billion ($750 million) in immediate new aid for the beef industry, hard hit by the mad cow crisis, a senior government source said.|
Martin will make the announcement with Agriculture Secretary Bob Speller on an Alberta farm yesterday morning, a day before Finance Minister Ralph Goodale unveils the federal budget.
\"It\'s essentially C$1 billion for beef farmers,\" the source said. \"It\'s a great industry that\'s gone through the wringer.\"
Last May, a single case of mad cow was discovered in Canada, prompting a shut-down of most of the country\'s beef export markets and causing beef and cattle prices to plummet. Then in December a mad Holstein was discovered in Washington state, and it was eventually determined to have originated in Canada too.
Canadian beef is still banned from most export markets. The United States has begun allowing some beef from young cattle, though live cattle imports from Canada remain prohibited.
The aid money will come from the surplus for the current fiscal year, which ends at the end of March. The government had originally projected a surplus of just C$2.3 billion, but tight-fisted policies since Martin took over as prime minister in December have helped free up additional resources, some of which will be used for the beef farmers and the beef industry in general.
Martin, hoping to call an election within the next two months, had been banking on picking up support in Western Canada, where the beef industry is strongest. But his popularity has been hit by a government spending scandal as well as by frustration among beef farmers.
The National Post newspaper said on Saturday that the budget was also expected finally to authorize the sale of the government\'s 19 percent stake in the oil company Petro-Canada (PCA.TO: Quote, Profile, Research) . It would be expected to yield more than C$2 billion ($1.5 billion) and would be earmarked for the environment.
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE