2006 vs. 2016: The Journey from Farm Protest To Now

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I remember the moment very clearly.  He was 10 years ago this week and I had been asked to lead a large farm protest in front of the parliament buildings in Ottawa.  It is a long story now about the winter of 2005 and 2006 were full of farm unrest as we had low prices and not very much hope.  Protested sprang up across Ontario and I was asked to speak at many of them.  So on April 6, 2006 I took the microphone and from Parliament Hill and attempted to lead 10,000 farmers in unison against the government which had ignored all are pleased for for Canadian agricultural safety net that worked.  The moment I remember clearly is when it was my time to start speaking.

What I remember was the chill going on my back.  This was no ordinary moment.  This was life-changing and I’ve been handed a microphone with the full responsibility of English Canada on my shoulders.  I was nervous and that chill the one up my spine had everything to do with nerves and nothing else.  I speak in public, everybody knows that.  However, I had never spoken to 10,000 people before in front of Canada’s Parliament with the full weight of responsibility on my shoulders.

Of course, half of the Ottawa Farm solidarity rally was performed in French and that was done by Mr Pierre Rheaume, from the UPA, who was a legend in Quebec.  When he reached the stage, he turned to me and told me that he has a sequence of things to go through with his guys.  I knew his legend in Québec and had great respect for it.  I was given very little guidance on what I was supposed to do, but I knew I had to match this French-Canadian legend.  So it began, the largest protest in years in front of Parliament Hill.  10 years out, here I am.

It is so interesting to look back on that now.  At the time it was before the biofuel boom and the exponential price rises that came about in the next few years leading up to where we are now.  At the time there was much hue and cry in the farm community to get an agricultural income stabilization support plan from the federal government.  I’ve written extensively about this and even in 2016 I still mention it.  These rallies took place during an election campaign at that time and the new conservative government at the time it promised to deliver this safety net.  So as we left the stage that day, many of us were hoping that we had made a difference.  Nobody could ever imagine what was ahead.

So now that we sit 10 years out from those days, it’s very clear what happened.  We didn’t get our safety net, but we had an unequivocal expansion in agricultural commodity demand, partly fostered by ethanol coupled with superlow interest rates.  This combination led to much higher prices and subsequently much higher farm asset values especially farmland.  We had a big expansion of feed grains around the world and web prices were everybody seem to thrive. The impetus and the motivation for that Canadian agricultural safety net was completely lost along the way.  To their credit, farm groups like the Grain Garmers of Ontario still lobby for such a policy.  10 years later, we’re still waiting for federal government to work with their provincial counterparts to stabilize farm incomes.

Simply put, the ground shifted under our feet.  I protested and led protests 10 years ago because I really believed that we needed an agricultural policy that worked.  I’d studied too long in the intricacies of agricultural economics to ignore the problem.  At the time in 2006 we needed something to change our Canadian agricultural Outlook.  I still believe it is needed, but there is no question that in 2016 many of us have moved on.  Farmland values are just too high for any government to put together a comprehensive agricultural stabilization policy for Canadian grain and oilseed producers.  It is what it is and until many conditions change, I don’t see ever going back to the political climate of 2006.

I had a call today from a farmer who was there in 2006.  He had read something about it in the newspaper that I had written.  I called him back and then he started informing me on what he thought that I had missed.  I let them talk for a long time and finally said that’s what he wanted to say.  I thanked him and say goodbye.  Essentially, he was talking about what he had hoped but would never be.  For whatever reason, he must’ve thought it important to tell the guy who actually had the microphone that day.  I just hope he feels better for getting it off his chest.

If you were on Twitter this week, you saw all my pictures.  10 years ago Canadian farmers through their Hail Mary pass and I was in the middle of it, in fact, I felt like quarterback throwing the ball.  The hope of course was to get that proverbial Canadian agricultural income stabilization policy which worked.  Regrettably, we didn’t get it.  The ground shifted under her feet and history had a different story to tell.  However, the inherent weakness of agricultural economics will never change.  In 2016 we are seeing our propensity to overproduce causing those low prices once again.  We still need that policy in Canada.  Maybe the stars will line someday, but it will certainly be with new leadership at the helm.  For those of us who were there, we gave it all we could.

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