Friday, April 22, 2011

Farming and politics

I'm currently inside the house, warming up with a hot cup of tea from a wet and icky fall in the mud, and thought it would be a good time to write about politics ;P

I attended my first all-candidates debate for my region, Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound, on Wednesday night in the community centre at Keady. It's actually the first political debate I've ever attended. I've never really been one for watching the leaders' debates on tv or listening on the radio, but have chosen more to read party platforms downloaded from their websites. While I've always exercised my right to vote, and have tried to be an informed voter, I find myself more motivated to care about our democracy since getting into farming than ever before.

The debate I attended was organized by the National Farmers' Union (NFU), the Christian Farmers' Federation of Ontario (CFFO) and the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA), so of course, the debate questions all focused on agriculture and food policy. I didn't learn anything particularly new about the various parties' agriculture-related platforms at this debate as I do generally keep track of the issues on this front. I found the format of the debate itself lacking as the audience didn't get to participate in the process, other than submitting written questions, of which only a small handful were presented to the candidates for debate. While I understand this was done for efficiency's sake and to avoid any public outbursts, it did not make me feel engaged in the process at all.

The candidates that impressed me the most with their responses were Emma Hogbin for the Green Party and Kimberley Love for the Liberals. They seemed passionate and informed about their positions. Kimberley was especially impressive with her ability to answer questions on point and a very confident public speaking style. However, Emma was much more pointed in her views on the problems with Canadian agriculture and what the Green Party would do to address them. Essentially, organic and local agriculture, especially of small and mid-size farms, is their focus, which you can imagine, is especially dear to my heart.

Large, corporate agriculture has had decades of government support and subsidies and I can't see how that has been successful to now. In one of my previous posts, I had discussed how I had gone looking for all the 'government money' that was out there to help me farm, and had discovered that this is a hoax that many Canadians believe in, but is ultimately untrue for any farm that isn't of a large and corporate scale. If Canada's overall food system is to have any long-term resilience and sustainability, it needs to include all different scales of agriculture, and arguably, far many more small and mid-size farms. If the rate of farmer retirement continues to outpace the rate of farmer replacement (described by the moderator on Wednesday in Ontario/Canada? as 4000 leaving and 1000 replacing each year), then who's going to grow the food we need to eat in the future? The capital costs for starting a farm can be quite high, and the learning curve once you're there is pretty steep. If farmers can't be profitable because they only get back less than 10% of the retail value of the goods they've produced, then who the hell wants to get into farming? But I digress...

The candidate I was absolutely the least impressed with at the debate was the Conservative incumbent, Larry Miller. From all my blog postings, I'm sure it's fairly clear that I'm far from being a Conservative, small or big 'C', but this man was so insulting in so many ways that I can't see how anyone could vote for him. His trademark phrase is that he's a 'straight-shooter', which perhaps appeals to this region because the demographics are older and most folks don't want to hear a bill of goods? I don't want to be insulting to the voters in my region, as everyone I've met has been pretty wonderful so far, but really...why do you vote for Larry Miller??? One of his responses that sticks out in my mind from the debate, was when he erroneously interpreted something said by Emma (Green Party), to which his response was (paraphrased slightly, but not far from being quoted word for word) "...they want to tell you how many acres you can farm...the last time that happened was in Russia, and it was Communism...". I was so bowled over by the ignorance and misinformation of that comment that I was just in shock for the next few moments. But beyond that response, and others that really annoyed me, his overall message was that government just couldn't (wouldnt'!) do anything to change the way Canadian agriculture currently works (doesn't). And if you take a look at the Conservative party platform on agriculture, you'll see that it's more of the status quo, focusing on export markets, agricultural innovation (read: more expensive machines, chemical inputs and GM products) and more fields growing fuel, than food crops, if that's what's actually profitable to farmers (...only because of subsidies!). If you think having a meat heavy diet is a hugely inefficient use of land resources, then take a look at the input/output numbers for fuel cropping (I shudder).

The NDP candidate for my region is Karen Gventer, who was also at the debate, though I don't have much to say one way or another about her performance there. The NDP food policy platform itself is certainly one with a lot of content that I agree with.

The Liberals, NDP and Greens all have food policies that I can live with (for a really simple synopsis, go to: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/something-to-chew-on-a-party-by-party-breakdown-of-food-policy/article1979351/). Though none of them are comprehensive enough (all 3 could be combined, and then some), they're certainly a start, which is more than has been on the political agenda for years! I hope that rural communities, traditionally seen as Conservative strongholds, stop thinking that Conservative policies help agriculture and consider alternatives. If the polls are to be believed, the Conservatives are the front runner for my district, with the Green Party in second. If you don't want the Conservatives to win this seat again, maybe we could push the Greens to the fore, and an actual seat in Parliament. Anything other than the Conservatives and Miller again!

There was one interesting thing at the debate that I'll conclude with. Barney, a local man known for his sandwich board protests, was also at the debate with flyers on why we should purposely spoil our ballot at this election to send a message that our  democracy is a sham and that our current slate of parties to vote for is no real choice at all. Given the lacklustre performance of the various opposition parties over the course of Harper's overly powerful time in office, I don't necessarily disagree with Barney ;P Whatever anyone chooses to do with their time at the ballot box, I just hope everyone goes to do something and sends a message that we want to participate in our democracy (no matter how flawed) and not be apathetic bystanders.

2 comments:

Paul C. said...

How many people in your riding do you think work at the generating station?

Do you think that they feel that the Green Party is a threat to their job security?

Brenda Hsueh said...

That's certainly a valid concern. Not personally being a supporter of our use of nuclear power though, I would support moving research dollars to other technologies and supporting the growth of those industries instead, which could then employ those currently in the nuclear industry.

But any such change, gradual or drastic, will cause someone pain. There's no getting around that on any front, but it isn't enough of a reason to not want change. Being someone who left job security behind, I'm not that sympathetic to job security as a reason to maintain the status quo.