Saturday, August 14, 2010

Commentary on prison farm closings

The following commentary is by Grant Robertson, whose National Farmers Union (of which I'm a part) commentaries I've been reading for a while now. I agree with him wholly...wake up rural Canada and stop voting Conservative! That said, I haven't yet decided which other party would be the best alternative, but anything would be better than more of Harper's government. Michael Ignatieff of the Liberals actually has a National Food Policy which is a bit of a miracle in itself. And I have heard Jack Layton of the NDP speak about food security and sustainability issues, so I know he at least understands even if rural Canada doesn't seem like a high priority in the NDP's platform (though since we're not officially in election mode yet, I really can't say what any party's platform is right now!).
I cannot wait for the next election to be called...please Canada, let's not be complacent. For our country to actually function as a democracy, we actually have to participate in it. Despite its many deficiencies, I still love Canada and wouldn't choose to live anywhere else. We are so blessed to have all the rights that we have here, but we need to actively make sure those rights are truly available to all Canadians, and not placidly assume that they are actually a reality.
What would actually work in our current apathetic climate to get people to care about issues and have informed opinions? And how do we actually get politicians to listen to us and hold them accountable for representing us? Anyone with any ideas on how we can actively participate in our democracy, especially beyond voting at the polls, should share them with everyone! Considering how much time the average person spends social networking via Facebook, Twitter, and who knows how many other methods that I haven't heard of yet, there must be some way to excite some real political thinking for the next election.
Showing disrespect for rural and small town Canada seems to keep the Harper government busier than a dog at a tree farm

A commentary by;
Grant Robertson

It is now abundantly clear that the Harper government was never committed to working for the best interests of farmers, small business owners, communities and much of rural and small town Canada, and worse, that this government disrespects us and see us as little more than a quaint relic of the past.  Those are strong words I know, but how else do you explain the comments from this government around the closing of Canada’s prison farms?  Despite almost 50 years of verifiable success of the program the Harper government, in its increasingly strident ideological way, is closing down these farms and planning to spend billions on new super-prisons.  These farms have provided practical work experience, but even more importantly they have helped to instil a much missing work ethic in inmates that has made a vast difference in their lives.

We know, in part from Statistics Canada data, that many of the inmates in our prison system grew up in situations where it is unlikely they learned the value of work- work was something to be avoided and for ‘losers’.  Many former inmates have come forward to talk about how the prison farm program turned their lives around.  One such inmate is John Leeman who says he had never worked a real job when he went into jail but he learned skills while working on a prison farm that allowed him to find meaningful employment when he was released.   "There's just tremendous opportunities working on a farm.  Not everyone is going to come out a farmer, but the work ethic alone is definitely a step in the right direction." (

A wide range of farm and civil society organizations have opposed the move.  But instead of listening, the Harper government just charged ahead with the Minister in charge, Vic Toews, speaking on behalf of the Harper government, and let’s be blunt Conservative MPs in rural and small town ridings across Canada: “My responsibility as public safety minister is to ensure that individuals who are in our facilities receive training that is appropriate, receive skills that are appropriate to the environment they will be returning to. It's not a productive use of the convicts that are incarcerated for a period of time ... Our responsibility is to provide appropriate training and jobs skills so that they can be reintegrated in a wholesome fashion in society at large."
In other words, the Harper government has no faith in the future of farm families in Canada.  None.  It is all there in black and white.  If this government believed in a future for farming, then training people to work directly in the industry or in the many secondary industries attached to food production would be “productive”, “appropriate” or even able to produce “job skills”.  What this also shows is that rural and small town Conservative MPs from across Canada, in ridings like my own in Huron-Bruce, have been complete and utter failures and need to be replaced.  These MPs promised us, when asking for our votes, that they would go and fight for small town and rural Canada.  Instead they have given up on us for anything else but a vote factory.  Why a single rural or small town Canadian would still vote for these people is beyond my ability to understand when the record is so clear.

According to the government the prison farms produce about $7.5 million in revenues against $11.6 million in expenses for a loss of some $4.1 million.  Well government MPs, welcome to today’s farming reality.  Instead of giving up and walking away you should be trying to fix the problems your policies have helped to create.  That you won’t, and see training anyone to have agricultural skills as wasteful, is why rural and small town Canadians will need to step up and send you packing in the next election.

Until March of 2010 Grant Robertson was the senior elected official with the National Farmers Union-Ontario.  As Ontario Coordinator Robertson was also a National Board Member of the NFU for 5 and half years. As Ontario Coordinator Grant guided the NFU in Ontario through a period of sustained growth and spent those years traveling across many parts of Canada speaking with and listening to farmers, eaters, politicians and business interests.  Grant and his family farm near Paisley, Ontario.  The author can be contacted at

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Feelings of discouragement

I'm feeling really tired and sad fact, crying as I write this post. I guess everyone needs a day like this every once in a while, after all, I can't be optimistic 100% of the time.

What has set this off today? I feel powerless. After reading updates about the latest anti-prison farm closing protests, I'm just so angry about the state of Canada's democracy and how unsupportive our government is about farming, despite their rhetoric, that I almost wonder what the point is of me doing what I'm doing. Peaceful protesters trying to blockade cattle trucks from removing the dairy herd from the Kingston prison farm were treated violently and arrested. And the cattle have been shipped out. The Conservative government is just going to go ahead with their plan to close down the prison farms, no matter public opinion. How does the minority Conservative government have the power to do all these things? Treat mostly peaceful G20 protesters violently? Set up (maybe) temporary police states? Get rid of the long form census? Why can no one stop them? How 'democratic' is our government if Harper can just do whatever the hell he wants?

At any point in my farming life, the government could set up rules about what I can and cannot do on my farm that could put me out of business or even land me in jail. And based on what? Large corporate farm lobbies that don't want any newcomers to succeed in the field, no matter how small? A Conservative belief in economic theory that thinks only large scale and exports are important to an economy? A complete lack of understanding or interest in small scale farming so as to actually set up the right regulations to protect the public good? And if I don't agree with any of these things and actually speak out, I'm going to be hit and arrested? What recourse do I have to our current government? What the hell are the opposition parties good for?

What do I want to do as an organic farmer? I want to produce lots of good and healthy food for as many people to eat as possible, in a way that works with and remediates the environment in which we live, and actually be able to support myself financially while doing this. The last thing I want to do is make anyone sick. Statistically, it's really the large agrifood operations that actually sicken and kill people with their food since everything's processed on an industrial scale. Despite the relative success of my season so far (as compared to last year), sometimes I just feel tired at the amount of work involved in this uphill battle to be a viable farm in an agricultural economy that doesn't seem to understand or care anything about me. But I truly believe deep in my soul that this has to work. Because if it can't work, then we are all well and truly fucked.