By Anne Minh-Thu Quach
Over the past few years, the economy has become one of, if not THE most important issues facing Canadians.
Manufacturing, natural resources, tourism—the media has been quick to focus their attention on a whole range of economic sectors. All sectors of the economy—that is, except for farming.
For some time now, the agricultural industry has been undergoing profound changes, changes often gone unnoticed, that have had a major impact on the daily lives of the people who feed all of us.
Our family farms, the backbone of our farming industry, are gradually disappearing, in part because of the policies of Stephen Harper’s government.
Since the Conservatives came to power, Canada has lost over 8,000 small farms. This federal government has undermined our family farms by weakening their risk management tools, turning things over to private insurers and threatening supply management, which provides stability and profitability for entire segments of our farming sector.
In the West, the Conservatives’ completely ideological dismantling of the Canadian Wheat Board has jeopardized the very existence of many family farms.
When faced with these conditions, in addition to unprecedented international competition, our farmers are being forced to either expand their operations in order to remain competitive or just give up and sell their land to corporations, which often take advantage of the situation by dictating unfair terms.
And what do we end up with? Industry giants gradually taking over most of our farmland.
Is the Conservative government waiting until our farming industry looks like a monopoly before they’ll act?
If taking away from farmers the tools to protect themselves wasn’t enough, the Conservatives have also decided to make cuts to many funding programs that farming businesses rely on to stay afloat and make a decent living. Farmers are no longer eligible for the AgriStability Program unless their margins fall below 70% of their original amount (this cut-off used to be 85%). As well, Ottawa has reduced its contributions to the AgriInvest funds by a third. And that’s not all: in its most recent budget, the Harper government decided to cut resources for research and innovation at a time when farmers are figuring out how to adapt to climate change, find sustainable solutions to problems with the use of pesticides or diseases in certain crops, and so on.
The attacks on farmers continue, while the employment insurance reforms imposed on seasonal workers will further weaken local family farms. By forcing seasonal workers to accept any job during the off season, the Conservatives’ employment insurance reforms are yet another obstacle for farmers, who rely heavily on seasonal employment. There is a huge risk that the reforms will drive seasonal workers far away from the region, resulting in a loss of skills and fewer qualified workers to depend on. As if depriving these farms of Canadian workers wasn’t already enough, Conservative mismanagement of the temporary foreign worker program is also causing hardship for the owners of family farms, who heavily depend on this program when they often have to temporarily hire foreign workers in order to meet immediate labour requirements.
And the ultimate insult by the Conservatives: taking Canada out of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification! In March, Canada became the only country in the world to abandon this convention, which is in place to combat drought in Africa and elsewhere, including the Canadian Prairies. Do the Conservatives actually believe that we aren’t affected by drought? Just look back to last summer, when several of our own provinces suffered from a lack of precipitation and the devastating effects of heat on their crops!
The loss of our family farms threatens not only our rural economies, but it also has a major impact on the diversity, sustainability and security of Canada’s food supply.
But finally, why should we care? After all, these family farms that have closed their doors only represent 5% of the total number of agricultural producers.
And even if they seem to be few, these closures reflect a great trend which is not about to reverse itself. If only for that, we have a duty to make this our concern.
At the time when our farmers are going back to working the land and getting ready to provide us with healthy, high-quality products, maybe we should give them the tools and conditions to help do that. It is all about choices and political leadership.
Show your support for local farmers by signing the petition.