Rome Is Burning: A Canadian Constitutional Crisis Hits Farm Country


It has been quite a day.  For Canadian with even a mild interest in poltics, this has been like the Super Bowl everyday.  I found my self home because its too wet, cold, and muddy to do much else.  So I got to witness Prime Minister Harper visit the Governor General’s residence in the hope of avoiding his government’s defeat.  At the end of his morning the meeting the GG had prorogued until January 26th Prime Minister Stephen Harper lives for another day.

For the last few days, its been a political train wreck.  I don’t have to tell you.  However, I sent out a few smoke signals to some of my American DTN colleagues earlier in the week giving them a warning.  That didn’t register.  However, when I got some email from my DTN managing editor today saying “Parliament — just shutting down parliament”, I knew our Canadian consitutional crisis had hit Omaha.  A Canadian civics lesson ensued.  At the end the day, I agreed that Sarah Palin had actually seen Canada.

I assured my American friends that there is no revolution here.  Canadians do a lot of huffing and puffing, but at the end of the day, we just move on.  At times, Canadians like to say our political system is superior to the US system.  We have a 37 day election campaign, count the votes in three hours and its over.  It seems like our American friend go on forever.  However, this latest Canadian constitutional crisis reminds me of kids playing marbles and fighting over who goes first.  It was and continues to be ridiculous and compared to our American friends, our politicians resemble something from a Banana Republic.

Needless to say I know some of these people.  In fact I’ve stood on stage with both Jack Layton and Stephane Dion.   Both of them were soundly defeated seven weeks ago in our federal election.  Somebody pinch me and see if I’m dreaming.  In January they may form government with the help of somebody who wants nothing to do with Canada, Gillies Duceppe.

In my mind these political gyrations would make far better sense if we were a year out from the last election.  Heck, we’re not even two months out!   I wouldn’t be surprised if the coalition lasted until January 26th.  At a certain point foxes and chickens cannot coexist together.  In other words, many Liberals, NDPer’s and Bloc members can’t take each other.  Into the future this political precedent will surely be hard to live down.

For vast stretches of rural Canada, there will be no representation.  That’s interesting to me, because both Jack Layton and Stephane Dion have lined up behind me looking for rural votes.  Needless to say I’m wondering what their memories are like.  They both told me how much they were going to do for Canadian farmers.  Jack Layton actually tapped me on the shoulder and introduced himself.  I turned and told him how much Canadian farmers needed an agricultural safety net.  With ten thousand farmers in front of him and me, he said, Phil, we’ll get you one.

In Western Canada it must be bittersweet.  Living and farming in the east means, I’ve very used to the political pendulum between Liberal, Conservative and NDP.  In the west, there is no such thing and the future of the Canadian Wheat Board is an example of this.  It’s still here because the eastern based parties equate that with the sanctity of the Ontario/Quebec dominated supply managed agricultural commodities.  In the East, nobody messes with that.  So if you mess with the CWB, its equated the same way for supply management.  That’s why the eastern based political parties constantly scuttle Conservative plans for the CWB.  This latest political charade is surely not drawing raves in the West.

The problem for Canadian farmers are things are piling up.  Canola ending stocks this year according to Statistics Canada are estimated at 3.6  million metric tonnes, three times the 10 year average.  Prices for corn and soybeans still haven’t found bottom and our livestock sector continues to be burned by US Cool requirements.  Rome is burning and “our guys” are throwing snowballs at each other.

So my next move as an agricultural economics writer is to pull in my IOU’s from my friends.  Will my old friends Stephane and Jack will remember their promises to me in the heated moments of past farm rallies?  Will Dion survive until January 26th and will the coalition of power hungry opportunists?

It all might go awry.  Many Canadians are calling this madness.  I think so too.