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April 03, 2024

When calamity arises somewhere in the world, it’s natural to wonder if the same thing could happen here…and if it did, what would we do?


Take farmer protests, for example. Since the early 2020s, citizens in India and more lately, Europe, have gasped at farmers’ growing vitriol over their status quo. They’ve watched frustrated food producers take to civil disobedience, march on their legislatures, clog highways and streets with convoys of slow-moving machinery and garbage -- and in some cases, dump what appears to be perfectly good food to underline their anger.


In India, farmers want guaranteed minimum prices. In Europe, price increases for inputs such as fuel and fertilizer have not been matched by additional payments through the Common Agricultural Policy. EU bureaucrats signed lopsided, politically motivated trade deals that producers say gave away market access to Africa, South America, China and even Russia, but failed to open doors in exchange.


Farmers say the likes of low commodity prices and wavering farm income, high input prices, irrational regulatory policies, stiffening environmental measures, consumer confusion over food prices and government hysteria over climate change is bad enough.


But worse, they say, is the indifference being shown by decision makers and the public over how those factors affect farmers. It’s unfair to make farmers scapegoats for much broader climate problems and economic woes, and they’ve had enough. That frustration has been the catalyst for the wide range of civil disobedience in Germany, France, Belgium and Italy, among other countries. Farmers finally ran out of patience.


And when you look at the causes, all this may sound familiar to Canadian farmers who feel likewise stymied by events near and far.


For example, in its 2024 Farm Input Market Outlook released in February, Farm Credit Canada warned that an escalation in the war in Gaza and the Red Sea would increase energy and fertilizer prices. It noted that the Red Sea conflict has resulted in vessels being rerouted around Africa, adding up to two to three weeks to a ship’s journey and the potential for global shipping costs to rise as capacity falls.


What are Canadian farmers supposed to do about that? It’s out of their control.


The other causes of frustration that often get cited elsewhere are like a checklist of what’s going on here, too. Low commodity prices, soaring food prices with no one in the off-farm value chain accepting responsibility, and irrational policies – most notable, the much-hated carbon tax – are hardly some other country’s problem.


And sure enough, in a move that was reported to be stimulated by European farmers’ actions, several hundred Québec producers staged a protest rally in Rimouski the second week in March. They circled near the office of their provincial government member then headed off for the local Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food office to voice their displeasure with their plight.  In media interviews, the beleaguered corps complained that they were “drowning” in red tape and regulations, and not getting fair prices for their products.


Québec is a major fruit and vegetable producing province. Growers there face problems the rest of Canadian agriculture can identify with, including labour shortages, navigating through government regulations to hire and house temporary foreign workers, and wondering if new trade deals with Europe and other jurisdictions are any good for them.


So, there’s no need to wonder if European-style farm protests could happen here. As the Rimouski incident shows, they already have.


But you can’t help wondering how much farm-related frustration was also seething among participants of the so-called Freedom Convoy, two years ago. In much of rural Canada, the anti-Ottawa sentiment is as palpable now as it was then, and it’s likely to only intensify as the federal election nears.

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Submitted by Owen Roberts on 3 April 2024