Although farmers raised demands to protect themselves against the ravages of the developing economic depression, the federal and provincial opposition Conservative Party played a prominent role at the protest. Its speakers stoked anti-government sentiment, promoting the idea that the little guy and rural Ontario is being trampled on by taxes, regulations, and bureaucrats.
The actionwhich took three hours to go the distancewas part of the Stop the Destruction convoy organized by the Rural Revolution coalition that began January 21 with a blockade of Highway 401 in southwestern Ontario.
One hundred tractors led the huge convoy of several hundred vehicles that included tractor-trailers, pickup trucks, and passenger cars. The Prescott-Ogdensburg international bridge to the United States was blocked on the Canadian side for two hours. The original plan was to cross the bridge, but U.S. authorities denied access.
Many participants were tobacco farmers from the Tillsonburg area who were prominent in the January 21 blockade. Forty tobacco farmers traveled by bus from Tillsonburg to participate. Three others drove their tractors the full 600 kilometers over a three-day period. Tobacco farmers are demanding that Liberal Party premier of Ontario Dalton McGuinty fulfill his promise for Can$50 million in aid to farmers (Can$1 = US$0.81). Also at the protest were vegetable, beef, and grain farmers.
Carolyn Knack and her husband participated in the convoy in support of her father, also a tobacco farmer near Tillsonburg. They both work at the TRW auto parts factory in tobacco country. The farmers need support, she said. If we dont fight back there is no future for our kids. Knack reported that there are efforts underway in her plant to bring in the Canadian Auto Workers union.
Tobacco farmers said they receive about 10 cents for the amount of tobacco used in a pack of cigarettes, which costs about $7.00. The balance of the price goes to the profits pocketed by the tobacco companies and to taxes. To make their point, farmers at the rally burned a bail of tobacco. They said it was worth $100 to them but $2,400 in taxes.
Rural Revolution is a coalition of farmers and small business owners that was initiated about a year ago by the Lanark Landowners Association in collaboration with Conservative Party members of the federal parliament.
Speakers at the rally included Randy Hillier, president of the Lanark Landowners Association, and Conservative Party MPs Scott Reid, Gordon Brown, and Diane Finley, the Conservatives agricultural spokesperson. The MPs demagogically attacked both the federal and Ontario provincial Liberal governments for the farm crisis. They said regulations for rural Ontario should reflect rural Ontario and the main issue is protection of property rights. They claimed the attacks on the conditions of farmers were the result of Prime Minister Paul Martins supposed concern for the rights of gays, Quebec, and multiculturalism (a code word for immigrants).
Fighting for more money doesnt fix the problem for farmers, said Hillier. The problem is the market place is controlled by a few companies. Government is regulating people out of the market place and this has to be fixed.
The signs carried by tractors and trucks reflected both the influence of these Conservative Party ideas as well as farmers demands to protect their livelihood. They included, This land is our land. Back off governmentLanark Landowners Association; We need cost of productionsolidarity; No farms, no food, then we all lose; and Rural business need not diekill the water act instead.
Rural Revolution is demanding that a series of regulatory acts being brought in by the Ontario government be withdrawn, or otherwise that farmers and rural business owners receive just and timely compensation for the effects of the legislation on their livelihood. Protesters said that Greenbelt legislation denies farmers compensation for land taken out of production, and a safe drinking water act would force major expenses on farmers and small business owners for costly water test reporting and treatment requirements.
The campaign of Rural Revolution has been criticized by the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, the largest farmers organization, because of its civil disobedience tactics. A sign on the flatbed truck used as a makeshift stage for the rally asked, Where is the OFA? On the other hand, a column by Philip Shaw, the main editorial writer for the Voice of the Farmer, an Ontario-wide farm biweekly, endorsed the campaign with the headline 401 blockade sent the right message in its February 1 issue.
The Stop the Destruction convoy continued on February 18 when hundreds of vehicles led by protesting farmers in tractors blocked a lengthy stretch of Highway 401 near the Ontario-Quebec border.
On March 9 the Stop the Destruction convoy will converge at the Ontario Legislature at Queens Park in downtown Toronto. Organizers say there are plans to bring in 1,000 tractors as well as campers, mobile homes, and tents so the protesters can stay until their demands are met.
In the meantime, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture has announced it is organizing an Ontario Farmers One Voice March at the Ontario Legislature at Queens Park in Toronto for March 2.
Farming is in serious trouble. Farm incomes have been devastated by the BSE [mad cow] crisis, poor crop conditions, a strengthening dollar and US trade action on hogs, grain and oilseed prices at 25 year lows, rising costs of energy and other inputs, and a crushing regulatory burden on farmers that shows little net benefit, the OFA said in a February 20 statement. The Ontario government has not taken the voice of farmers seriously. To show the provincial government that farmers take the situation seriously, they will be at Queens Park on March 2 to personally deliver their demands to the Premier and his government.
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