Farmer's lash out at government

By Robert Janelle

Originally Published in The Ottawa Citizen December 15th, 2005

The grounds of the Canadian Dairy Commission ran white with milk yesterday as farmers in fake bio-hazard suits dumped 1,600 litres during a demonstration at the Experimental Farm.

�Get back, that�s hazardous,� one farmer shouted jokingly to the gathered crowd, referring to bureaucratic concerns that food sold at farmers� markets is unsafe.

The demonstration culminated a day of protest by area farmers. Earlier, they rode their tractors in a traffic-slowing protest along Highway 417 to show their anger at what they regard as an increasingly anti-farmer attitude on the part of government � everything from municipal health departments making it difficult for farmers� markets to national government allowing unfair trade practices that harm the livelihood of domestic farmers.

Area farmers are not alone in their concerns. Over the past few years, farmers across Canada have been staging protests over government indifference and even neglect of their interests.

Ontario farmers, in particular, have been taking a more confrontational stance toward government policies.

�We�re going to fight to keep our lifestyle and our heritage,� Randy Hillier, president of the Ontario Landowners, shouted to the few hundred supporters at the demonstration.

Mr. Hillier said he organized the protest to coincide with two events: the federal election and, more importantly, the current World Trade Organization talks in Hong Kong. According to Mr. Hillier, the WTO talks are working toward an agreement that will put 10 per cent of dairy and poultry farms in Ontario out of business without compensation for the affected farmers. This, he said, would add up to a $600-million loss for Ontario farmers.

Another concern for farmers is the state of the current supply- management system. Supply management is a quota system for dairy farmers that was established in the early 1970s to ensure farmers did not over- or under-produce milk.

�Supply management has been a hell of a deal,� said Willyan Dejong, a Chesterville farmer. �We�re asking for assistance in running a system that works.�

The demonstration attracted some non-farmers. �It�s a political issue� that affects everyone, said Len Chapeski, who, despite not having a farm, came from Arnprior to show his support for the protesting farmers.

He had a point. Both Nepean-Carleton Conservative MP Pierre Polievre and Conservative Glengarry-Prescott-Russell candidate Pierre Lemieux turned up to do some campaigning.

�They�re not asking for subsidies, farmers are just asking for their fair share,� said Mr. Lemieux. �The Liberal government has done nothing for farmers in the past 12 years.�

Mr. Polievre sketched the Conservative platform on rural issues. �We will scrap the $2- billion gun registry that harasses duck hunters and farmers,� he said to warm applause. �We want to entrench in the constitution private property rights so no level of government can tell you what to do with your property.�

That statement struck a chord with Mr. Hillier. What farmers want, he said, is �the freedom to own, use and enjoy and the opportunity to earn a living from our private property.�

The demonstration was one of four held across the province yesterday. The others were in Woodstock, Belleville and Wallaceburg.