In terms of wild, it is the wildest I’ve ever seen. I don’t mean a wild wild. I mean a good wild. When your loyal scribe looked up and saw 3500 Quebec farmers coming across the lawn of Parliament Hill, it was one of those seminal moments. It was wild, everybody hooting and hollering. As co-chairman of the event, what was I suppose to say.
I didn’t get the chance. Up to the microphone was a real pro, co-chair Pierre Rheaume of the UPA of Quebec. We had conferred a bit, but he took control, jarring with the crowd in French. Then it was my turn, I went to with my “Do Farmers Feed Cities.” “Do farmers feed cities”? Do Farmers Feed Canada”. We were off.
No doubt Pierre was the real pro. He had handled 25 farm rallies, 5 of them in Ottawa, one of them blocking highway 20 between Quebec City and Montreal. I’ve done 4 or 5, but have always been a speaker, never a MC.
It was cold up there, but I got warmed up as time went on. There were farmers there from each province. Up to the microphone walked farm representatives from all over Canada. Pierre and I worked the crowd the best we could. Results are what we want. We helped be the voice. Other farmers got to lobby the politicians in the morning.
Some guys may say progress was made. Two of my Chatham-Kent Ontario colleagues met with both agriculture minister Strahl and Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Clearly there are problems because there is no budget for the politicians to work with. Also, if the truth were told Liberals caused the problems they are facing led by former finance and agriculture minister Ralph Goodale.
Ok, so there I am up and stage surrounded by politicians and other hangers on. I look over and whom do I see, but Ralph Goodale standing six feet from me. I almost ran over and confronted him. Here is the guy who caused a lot of this agricultural problem and he’s present to feel our pain. That was pretty hard for me to take.
From the stage I recognized some local volunteer fire fighters. The Dawn-Euphemia fire department from Rutherford Ontario had constructed a sign for the rally. There sign said “put your trust in rural agriculture and support public safety.”
The problem is there is no longer a long-term agricultural safety net for the grain and oilseed farmers who dominate the area. It’s gotten to the point where these farmers can no longer do both. Not only is their farm on fire, but without a risk management policy the rural countryside will be on fire too. Something has to give. It is only another example of how the lack of an agricultural safety net is affecting the rural community. Some rural institutions like volunteer firefighter may no longer be tenable.
Is hope on the way? I don’t know. After a day like last Wednesday optimism abounds. However, keep in mind especially for you guys in Ontario, Leona Dombrosky the provincial minister has dug in her heals. She has said no to RMP. Chuck Strahl still doesn’t have a budget. We are still in the same position we’ve been in since former Ontario minister Steve Peters signed the death knell with former federal minister Lyle VanClief.
Politically, its pretty clear the Conservatives have to move on this. Gillies Duceppe and the Bloc Quebecois have solid support with Quebec farmers. You might make the argument that the Conservatives were elected by significant support in rural areas. Then there is Jack Layton.
I like Jack Layton. He paid me $5 for the Wallaceburg Farm Rally DVD last year. So I was shocked during the rally when somebody tapped me on the shoulder. I looked around and there was NDP leader Jack Layton. He told me “Phil, this is great.” I thought to myself, yes, it is, how does he know my name.
Thinking quickly I reminded him of our meeting in Essex County during last year’s election. I told him he needed to demand an agricultural stabilization policy from either Paul Martin or Stephen Harper for his support in a minority situation. He told me he remembered and he is supporting us.
At the end of the rally I found myself surrounded by farmers in a downtown Ottawa restaurant. Cell phones were ringing everywhere. Farmers from Alberta joined us. Alberta! What’s up with that?
It was surreal. I thought to myself we are making progress here. The Alberta guys were effusive in their appreciation for what local organizers had done in Ottawa. It was like we’d made a difference. Was history made that day? We’ll see. For those who were there it was a day they will never forget.