16, 2005: Twice now the countryside has invaded Toronto,
delivering a message of frustration and a demand for change
and support. Twice, the urban media scrambled for a quick
education on countryside issues before refocusing on Martha
Stewart’s comeback and Michel Jackson’s lifestyle.
To be fair, the urban media did get the key messages right.
The stories I read and heard had the Ontario Federation of
Agriculture-led demonstration focused on more money for the
business of farming and problems with how regulations are
handled. The Lanark Landowner-led protest delivered the message
that over-regulation is eroding the ability to earn a living
in rural Ontario.
The problems were defined and communicated. Were the solutions?
The suggested solution for farming’s money woes was
an immediate cash infusion in an amount exceeding the total
budget of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food. Immediate
help is urgent, but let's not kid ourselves that this puts
anything right. Short-term help is likely to hinder repositioning
the business of farming in Ontario. Remember the Crow Rate
– that transportation subsidy to western grain that
disappeared in the 1995 federal budget? It took political
guts to pull the plug on that immediate help and replace it
with a one-time payout for diversifying prairie agriculture
and boosting the value-added sectors. Once gone, Manitoba
set out to export grain in pig skins and Alberta did the same
on-the-hoof – until BSE. Commodity grain production
in Ontario, without value-added activities, has meager economic
rewards in the marketplace. Isn't it time to redirect our
productive agricultural resources to those activities from
which we can expect a satisfactory reward?
Meanwhile the fine print in the Lanark Landowners Association’s
11 resolutions relies heavily on stronger private property
rights to balance burgeoning government regulations. Coming
from a landowners organization, the solution is very understandable:
but I can’t advise farm business people to uncritically
endorse this remedy. Think of the consequences, should private
property rights be over-emphasized:
- Ontario’s drainage legislation supports the creation
of drainage systems. Enshrined property rights would make
it much harder to create and maintain these multiple-property
- Municipalities have a responsibility to decide on land
use to the benefit of all. More emphasis on individual property
rights will make it much harder to protect our best farmland
from urban sprawl for the business of farming.
- Agriculture, on occasion, causes discomfort because of
noise, dust and odor. Stronger property rights will give
farming’s many neighbors stronger legal routes for
Our provincial government needs to heed the frustration smoldering
in the countryside. We, back on the farm, need to develop
better and more doable solutions.
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