The Politics of Pragmatism: Tighten that Bolt on the Manure Spreader

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If there is one thing I am loath to talk about in this column it is politics.  It wasn’t always that way because I see things in an agricultural economic slant, but politics is often involved in that.  So over the past 28 years you might have heard me disparage a few politicians or two.  My opinions were very strong when I felt the very basic tenants of agricultural economics affecting farmers were completely ignored.  Many times though, the focus of my strong opinion was a bit of a waste of time simply because those same politicians didn’t understand agriculture.

In my younger days I was unable to understand that but of course now I really get it.  Our Canadian politicians are somewhat disparaged and the system is somewhat stacked up to put all the power in the top.  That might mean the Prime Minister’s office or a particular provincial premier’s office.  So getting things done in agricultural policy often takes forever and often never takes place.  That is just the nuance of the beast.

Our American friends are so much different with their division of powers.  With each state having 2 senators, smalls farm states like Kansas and Nebraska can have real power compared to California and New York.  That is why in the past we have seen strong US farm bills protect particular interests in smaller states.  You could even argue that ethanol has benefited from the political posturing in the US against the rest of the United States.  Simply put, in my mind it is always meant that American farmers have a much greater voice than their Canadian counterparts.

This is countered by my American friends who talk about the decreasing numbers of farmers.  I had a long conversation with a friend in Decatur Illinois a couple of years ago about this.  He told me about how Chicago controlled the politics of Illinois and farmers did not necessarily have a big say in that.  I countered with my U.S. Senate argument and I suppose the highlight of our conversation was what we were eating for breakfast.  Increasingly, I find politics distasteful and somewhat polarized even in Canada.

I had to shake my head this past week when I saw our Premier in Ontario driving a tractor on her way to announce the agricultural platform for her government during this election campaign.  The Premier of Ontario is also the agriculture minister.  As she drove the tractor toward the microphone, there was an obvious problem with somebody hanging off the tractor as she drove.  It certainly wasn’t a good advertisement for farm safety.  She had her agriculture announcement followed by an announcement later in the day from the opposition leader who finished off his comments by tightening the bolts on a manure spreader.  It is so laughable.  Of course farmers in Ontario need much more than that.

I think you all know what I would like to see.  I have always been a big supporter of agricultural safety nets that work.  Increasingly, I think that governments can do more to foster a transportation infrastructure for our grains and livestock.  This is a bit of a double-edged sword as grain and livestock can be transported both ways, in and out of the province.  So greater transportation efficiency does not necessarily mean better prices.  Needless to say, I will take my chances with that.

Sometimes farmers are just flat-out lucky when they get a good piece of agricultural policy.  Next year in Ontario the $517 million Ontario ethanol growth fund policy will come to an end.  There were several phases of this policy but one was the subsidy to produce ethanol in Ontario.  A lot of money was spent to spawn and increase Ontario ethanol production.  It will end next year and will surely not be continued.  In fact, in my opinion the only reason it did see the light of day was because former Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty believed in it.  It was just too green to turn down.  He had every opportunity to end it before he left office but he did not.  So farmers in Ontario have seen increased competition for their corn and an abundant supply of DDG’s for their livestock based solely on a politician’s whim.  We were just lucky, because it’s over now.

I am very aware that most American farmers are Republican.  At least that’s what most American commentators tell me.  It’s not so easy in Canada because in Québec there is really no such thing as conservative versus liberal.  It is much more federalist versus separatist.  Having said that, in Western Canada at least most farmers are conservative.  Of course the question is why?

I really don’t know.  I look at our political parties a little differently now.  When they get into office its usually pragmatism that wins the day.   Consider that in Ontario as you prepare in your mind to vote.  In fact, ditto across Canada.  At the end of the day, we are all Canadian.