First published: October 21, 2004
It is time for farmers to become radical.
The tactics used by farmers to express the hardship they have faced over of the past three decades are failing. The crisis is far beyond anything in recent memory, reaching way beyond the fields and barnyards of places like Northumberland, into the kitchens and cupboards of cities and towns. Not only is our food supply at stake, but also our very sovereignty as a nation is on the line.
The United States Department of Commerce imposed dumping duties of 13.25 per cent on Ontario Pork’s live hog exports last Friday. This is being done based on a preliminary finding by the commerce department and the final ruling is not expected until early next year. Ironically, only two months ago, the same department found Canadian support payments to pork producers was in full compliance with U.S. law and international trade rules.
This comes in the midst of a major catastrophe for beef farmers, who are barely hanging on as they suffer through punitive action by the Americans, who are refusing to allow Canadian beef across the border. A few weeks ago, Northumberland County beef farmers were grappling with officials at a local public meeting in an attempt to secure their future, but with little satisfaction.
Federal and provincial politicians need to get the message, but the tactics used by farmers in the past no longer work. There must be swift and decisive action before the pork producers are left in the same bind as the beef farmers. Sweeping new approaches must be considered or we will all lose.
This is a war without guns. Civilized nations in the G9 countries do not use missiles or messy invasions any longer. Economic wars are waged over oil, water and other basic resources. The Americans are angry over our ability to produce inexpensive softwood lumber, cheap drugs and host of other complaints, which leave them in a lesser economic position. Through these punishing and unnecessary trade sanctions, Canadians suffer.
But the federal government’s mismanagement of the softwood lumber negotiations and abysmal handling of the beef farmer’s plight, the frustration for farmers is unbearable. The public trust is gone and the only way substantive action will take place is under immense pressure.
One group of farmers in Lanark County provides a possible solution. The Rural Revolution, under the leadership of the Lanark Landowner’s Association, started using civil disobedience to grab the attention of government officials by removing them from their land. The idea is to challenge the government’s authority, including denying tax assessors’ entry into private land and businesses; escorting government agents off property; and encouraging members to refuse any co-operation with any agency or arm of the government.
The group has a long list of concerns as they fight back against increased property tax, higher insurance rates, and skyrocketing hydro prices, along with brutal heating, gas and oil costs.
The Lanark Landowners Association blames special interest groups and single-issue associations, who pressure government. The results are policies and legislation that imposes hardship on rural landowners. So the farmers’ solution is to stare down the government through these acts of disobedience.
While some farmers may find these methods over the top, the spirit must be admired. One thing cannot be argued. Farmers have gone far too long without seeing substantive action. Sure, there are plenty of meetings to placate urgent concerns, but nothing really happens.
To resolve this, farmers must amplify their collective voices. Traditional barriers between various agricultural groups, such as the dairy farmers, beef associations, pork producers, egg boards and the rest, must end. Solidarity between farmers must be in place for a full frontal assault to take place.
Next, farmers must build alliances with their urban cousins to become truly effective. Certainly events like Rural Ramble (which had its best year this past summer) help to educate city folk about farmer’s lifestyle. But it is not enough. What is really needed are letters or petitions or rallies to remove trade sanctions on pork and beef.
Even if this did occur, grocery shoppers would probably not flinch. Processors would source beef, pork and milk from other countries. Nobody would really know or care if our bologna was made with Canadian or Argentinean beef.
But farmers must act regardless.
Clearly without our own food source, we lie at the mercy of other nations. If farmers fail, and we, in turn, fail to support them, there will be no turning back. Northumberland farmers can start the ball rolling by reaching out to the surrounding urban centres to build these new coalitions. By saving themselves, they will save Canada.