It’s a beautiful late September afternoon near Picton in glorious Prince Edward County, and I’m among more than 100 members of the Canadian Farm Writers Federation participating in regional agricultural tours, as part of the organization’s 52nd annual meeting in Belleville. With almost incredible timing, some of the country’s best agricultural journalists are in the home riding of agriculture, food and rural affairs minister Leona Dombrowsky, and an election is mere days away.
Yet, no one bats an eye about it. When our affable local farmer-tour guide is asked to comment on the local political climate, he is genuinely at a loss for words. This, despite the fact we’re a stone’s throw away from the minister herself, the region is the southern tip of Ontario’s anti-government rural movement, and just up the road a bit towards Kingston, the movement’s radical leader, Randy Hillier, is trying to win a provincial seat as a Progressive Conservative.
Here, all this is hardly news. When it comes to the election, farming seems mute.
Fast forward to another gorgeous day last week back in Guelph, where a friend who farms 600 head of sheep in southern Alberta stopped by while in town on business. When the topic rolled around to farm politics, as it inevitably does, she said she was aghast that farming wasn’t a real election issue in Ontario.
What about the high-valued dollar? What about the slumping pork industry?
What about the competition for feed and the emergence of biofuel?
She rhymed off these issues without even thinking, and could have come up with a dozen more, at least, if given the time.
But she’d be spinning her wheels. Even Ontario farmers’ most passionate and high-powered spokesperson, Ontario Federation of Agriculture president Geri Kamenz, is soft-pedaling the election. He devoted his pre-election weekly commentary, released last Wednesday, to a detailed history lesson on the important role farmers have played in Ontario elections since the late 1800s, ending with a call to “use your vote for democracy.”
It’s a compelling message — not the kind of pre-election rhetoric we’re used to, but refreshing. I suspect we’re too Pavlovian about elections, and we simply expect the kind of dirt and muck we usually see because, after all, it’s an election.
But not this time around. In agriculture, the election of 2007 will be remembered as the year farmers went to the polls fed and watered. Prices for most commodities have been rising and remain very good, the provincial Liberals agreed to partner with farmers on a type of insurance program created on the back roads of Ontario, and as of this week, the opposition hadn’t poked holes in the McGuinty government’s performance in the agricultural sector.
In fact, not even the most angry members of the rank and file are using editorial pages of farm papers to raise the roof about this election. Last week’s Ontario Farmer newspaper, the staple of weekly farm news in the province, was void of front-page election news, opting instead for a full-page feature about new Canadian farmers getting a government grant. Eight days away from voting, and the word election could not be found on the front page, even in the teasers.
Inside the paper, it was another matter. The farm community believes it has a lot to gain if the mixed member proportional referendum passes, which will appear as a second ballot on voting day. It’s poorly understood in urban parts of the province, and likely just as much of a mystery to rural Ontario. But according to Ontario Farmer, producers are well-informed about it and should be supporting it. The newspaper feels it would give rural Ontario more of a voice.
It’s certainly a big issue, the first time in more than 200 years Canada’s biggest province has taken stock of the way it elects representatives. But it’s not exclusively a farm issue, like we’ve seen in the past. This election, there’s no placards, no protests, no cavalcades, no effigies. Most farmers are satiated, and it shows.