Last week farmers from across Ontario but mainly Chatham-Kent gathered at the Debot farm west of Wallaceburg. The feature speaker that day was former Solicitor General Wayne Easter. Also at the microphone were former Liberal International Cooperation Minister Susan Whelan and former Wallaceburg mayor and former Chatham-Kent councilor Jeff Wesley.
Also present that day was your loyal scribe. I had been asked to emcee and speak at the event earlier in the week. I believe in the cause, which is to get Ontario farmers, an agricultural policy which works. There has been too much water under the bridge to explain here, but in the last three years our local farmers have been thrown to the dogs when it comes to agricultural policy. The previous Liberal government emasculated their income supports and stabilization payments.
So standing on the stage that day were Liberal politicians explaining what happened. Farmers were angry not only at broken promises, but somewhat miffed with the Liberal politicians who aided that process for so long.
For me it certainly was a watershed moment. For many people there it was a very political event. How could it not be with some very important Liberals present but no Conservatives or NDP. I did manage to see former NDP candidate Kevin Blake in the assembled crowd. However, I didn’t get a chance to talk with him. Clearly from a Conservative point of view this rally was a no go.
That was a far cry from last December when the Conservatives embraced the local farm community. Then opposition leader Stephen Harper announced to a large crowd on a local farm that the Conservatives would “scrap CAIS” which is the hated Liberal excuse of a income support plan and bring in what was called a production insurance program. As spring sprung many local farmers thought they were on the right track.
However, it’s all history now, back to the politics of last Sunday. Clearly from my perspective the Conservatives looked at it as a no-fly zone. The Liberals on the other hand looked like there was a great opportunity at hand. However, what was the right thing to do? Should everybody have made an attempt to be there?
It might be all about being “uncomfortable.” I don’t know. It would seem in our political culture there is a lot of that. Both the MP and the MPP for the area did not attend. I’m not sure why but that doesn’t matter. For whatever reason they were not there and the debate was probably poorer because of that.
There is a little too much of that in our society. But give a couple ministers of the crown some credit. Federal agriculture minister Chuck Strahl faced the music and addressed a crowed of 2000 angry farmers in Ottawa on February 21st. A week previous the provincial agriculture minister Leona Dombrowsky did the same thing in Guelph. However when Strahl visited Chatham-Kent in early April it was by invitation only. He didn’t seem to want to show up at a public meeting.
The same can be said for Premier Dalton McGuinty who showed up in Chatham-Kent a couple of weeks ago. Once again, it was by invitation only. Keep in mind; I’m not saying I needed to be invited. I’m not saying those meetings needed to be open. However, what I’m saying is there is a pattern developing. Whenever a politician deems there might be some type of disagreement or push back, they avoid it. Sunday’s farm rally might be an example of that.
It certainly might also be human nature. Nobody likes conflict, disagreement and the occasional catcall. As emcee of an event like that you have to be used to speaking in public. However, that doesn’t come easy. It takes lots and lots of practice. I’m getting very used to it. Being foisted by my peers into a political situation is a comfortable place for me now.
However, to me it is increasingly becoming very evident that there is too much “discomfort” within the agricultural political culture, which permeates rural Ontario. Rome is burning and too many people are uncomfortable to do anything about it. Politicians don’t seem to want to confront the problem. Even though farm organizations are doing a good job, some are too busy bending over backward to not offend anyone. Meanwhile, Rome keeps burning.
It is one thing to not say anything because you are uncomfortable. It is another to get paid six figures to step up to the plate even when you do feel uncomfortable. Clearly, government MP’s and MPP’s should have been at the farm rally this past week. Avoiding a little discomfort is a road to nowhere. Stepping up to the plate in an uncomfortable situation would have been admirable. There is still time. A little statesmanship can go a long way.