First off, let me say how very much we Prairie dwellers appreciate what you have already done to reach out and feel the pain of our farmers and ranchers. We’re still buzzing about that visit you made to the Edmonton Stockyards in October to commiserate about the continuing fallout from the discovery of a single Alberta cow suffering from bovine spongiform encephalopathy, otherwise known as mad cow disease. As one cattleman breathlessly told a local reporter that day, “There has never been a prime minister in the history of Canada that ever came to the stockyards.”
Certainly not that fellow you’re replacing, you know, the Grinch from Shawinigan. Why, he’s hardly said boo this past six months about a crisis that has devastated an
industry that generated $7.6 billion in cattle farm cash receipts last year, of which $5.9 billion came from Alberta. Some of us are unkind enough to suspect that things might have been different had the mad cow surfaced in the Grinch’s home province.
What’s that, you say? You’re from Quebec, too? Oh well, we’re sure you have a much broader view of these matters.
For example, those of us who follow farm news know about that letter you sent to Canadian Federation of Agriculture president Bob Friesen in July, which he read into the record at the federation’s semi-annual meeting in Charlottetown. “Policy development is not something to be done ‘to’ or ‘for’ farmers,” you wrote, “but ‘with’ and ‘by’ them.” Boy, did we ever like the sound of that out here. Especially after dealing for six years with the Grinch’s agriculture minister, Lyle Vanclief. A hard-working, earnest guy, to be sure, but also someone who clearly prefers to decree rather than consult.
But here’s the rub, Santa Paul. In your letter, and your subsequent visit to the stockyards, you were sort of vague about what you’d do to address all the challenges facing rural Canada.
You know, like those pesky export and domestic subsidies farmers in other countries receive, which serve to depress the world price our guys can command for their grains and oilseeds. You also haven’t had much to say about what many agriculture leaders say should be a top priority: developing a new set of farm
safety-net programs that would automatically kick in with tern-
_ porary compensation when something like the mad cow crisis strikes. Not to worry. We are, for the time being, willing to give you the benefit of the doubt. As Friesen, a hog and turkey farmer from southwestern Manitoba, observes, the new spirit of co-operation you are promising is something “farmers will welcome with open arms.” But please, Santa Paul, don’t be like the Grinch and leave us with a pig-in-a-poke. Yours, BRIAN BERGMAN
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