Farmers not getting the respect they deserve

The Chesterville Record

Wednesday, September 8, 2004

Brownell apologetic for record

Nelson Zandbergen
Record Staff

CHESTERVILLE – “There hasn’t been much that has put farming on a pedestal since we were elected to government … There hasn’t been one thing.”

 
 
The member for Stormont-Dundas-Charlottenburgh candidly expressed his disappointment with the apparent indifference with which the McGuinty Liberals have handled key issues affecting rural Ontario, nearly a year into their mandate.

 
 

          “We needed a liberal sprinkling of agriculture in the budget.  Well, there wasn’t much in the budget, was there?”

          “I don’t think they understand the struggles, outside rural Ontario.”

          “Individuals sitting in ivory towers thinking of things.”

          “If it isn’t broke, why fix it?”

          “You were told that this was going to be a government of consultation.  It hasn’t happened.”

          It’s mind boggling.  You are not getting the respect you deserve.”

          Assessing his own government’s track record on rural and agricultural issues, Liberal MPP Jim Brownell made the surprisingly blunt statements at various points during a wide-ranging address to the Dundas Federation of Agriculture in Chesterville September (1).

          The member for Stormont-Dundas-Charlottenburgh candidly expressed his disappointment with the apparent indifference with which the McGuinty Liberals have handled key issues affecting rural Ontario, nearly a year into their mandate.

          And he told his polite audience that he stood before them fully expecting to be “crapped over” as a result of government farm policies.

          In separate, unexpected announcements this summer, the province said it was eliminating funding for municipal drains as well as Dairy Herd Improvement, Ontario Swine Improvement and Beef Improvement Ontario.  The moves come from a government that alienated many farmers last year by placing the Ministry of the Environment in charge of inspections under the Nutrient Management Act.

Brownell said that he and other rural MPPs in the Liberal caucus were caught off guard when the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture killed funding for municipal drains July 27.

“Jean-Marc Lalonde (of Glengarry-Prescott-Russell) was as dumbfounded as I was.  I was floored.”

Agriculture and Food minister Steve Peters should have told them of the impending cut a couple of weeks earlier, when they were all together at a rural caucus meeting, he said, but didn’t.

He accused the government of making a “spur of the moment decision” then implementing it “through the back door.”

Describing the reaction of his constituents, he remarked, “And then it hit the fan, and I’m glad it hit the fan.”  He credited North Dundas Mayor Alvin Runnalls and local farmers Steven Byvelds and Arden Schneckenburger for quickly tipping him off to the “groundswell of anger” in the riding.

Brownell and other liberal members wound up confronting the minister in a conference call in August.  He participated via cell phone while parked along the road in Vars and gave Peters “a mouthful,” he said.

It was during the call that Peters warned the MPPs to expect additional cuts, according to Brownell.  Shortly thereafter, on August 17, OMAF announced the hit on the live-stock-improvement organizations like DHI.

The MPP made no attempt to defend any of the goings-on.  While the government has since promised transitional funding for municipal drains, he said the system did not require fixing in the first place.  “The government has to support something that wasn’t broken,”  he declared.

Conservative MP Guy Lauzon and Ontario Federation of Agriculture vice president Geri Kamenz, a former grade-school student of Brownell’s, were among the other notables on hand for the meeting in Chesterville.

Kamenz, a Liberal whose Spencerville-area farm once hosted a Jean Chretien media event, was categorical in his condemnation of the McGuinty government.  “I say this as a Liberal.  I think we’re living a real tragedy,” said Kamenz, directing his comments to Brownell when the floor was opened to questions.

“We meet regularly with the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of the Environment (Leona Dombrowsky), but then all of a sudden come these announcements.”

OFA grew so concerned with the apparent disconnect, he said, it took the unusual step of hiring a Toronto lobbying firm to understand what was really happening at Queen’s Park.

The lobbyist suggested that “Dalton McGuinty really admired Mike Harris” and his penchant for centralizing decisions in the premier’s office, he said.  “We’re led to believe Dalton McGuinty has taken the same approach,” he added, describing the current premier as a “student of Mike Harris.”

 
 
Brownell suggested the budget should have treated agriculture as a third priority, after health care and education.

 
 

The cuts to agriculture were made on high, with the agriculture minister “told it was coming,” he said.

The tragedy, he suggested, is that MPPs with the solutions are being ignored.  “I don’t think the premier is listening.”  With the government’s one-year anniversary approaching, he expressed hoped [sic] that McGuinty would reassess things and “realize the answers are right around him.”

He added to Brownell, “I feel sorry for you.  This is all coming right from the top.”

The MPP replied that his greatest disappointment of the term was that a promised forum involving the premier and all agricultural stakeholders – a part of the Liberal’s election platform – had yet to happen.

Brownell also brought news that the compliance date for large existing farms under the Nutrient Management will be pushed back to December 31, 2005 – if they apply for funding no later than sometime later this month.

He blamed the Nutrient Management Act regulations squarely on the actions of two municipal employees in Walkerton.  “It took two negligent individuals to create havoc in Ontario, and we see the results.”  He also expressed grave concern about the impact of water treatment requirements being foisted upon rural churches, corner stores and recreational facilities by the government.

Regarding the ongoing BSE crisis, he suggested his urban counterparts really weren’t getting it.  A June 16 BSE awareness barbecue on the lawn at Queen’s Park “was a purposeful and useful event,” drawing a long lineup of politicians eager to snag a burger.  “But nothing else happened.  There was no great groundswell,” he added, sounding frustrated.  “The message went out, but there was no action.”

Greatly outnumbered, “the rural members are struggling at Queen’s Park,” he said.  “The people who make policy in the ivory towers and the MPPs from urban areas are a massive group.”

He advised his listeners to assist him with making an impact behind government lines – by giving him written correspondence outlining their concerns.  Hard copy is more effective than a verbal message when dealing with a minister or their staff, he said.

Arden Schneckenburger told Brownell that he and his colleagues should have seen the rural cuts coming after the May budget. “You knew from that budget that there was going to be a 10 percent cut to OMAF.  I’m surprised the rural MPPs were caught off guard.”

Brownell suggested the budget should have treated agriculture as a third priority, after health care and education.  But that idea met with umbrage from Morrisburg-area beef farmer Ron Wilson.  “Agriculture should be number one,” said Wilson.

The Chesterville Record

 

 

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