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Civility, Bill C-18 and future of agriculture

Elections are indispensable elements of democracy and so are the respect and recognition for the mandate of elected officials.

Elections are indispensable elements of democracy and so are the respect and recognition for the mandate of elected officials.

But last week, we witnessed an incident in which one elected official refused to respect and recognize another elected official: Wetaskiwin MP Blaine Calkins declined permission to Jan Slomp, President of the National Farmers Union of Canada, to enter his constituency office in Ponoka on grounds that Slomp was “not welcome because he abused the privileges of coming to (my) office.”

Mr. Calkins did not specify how Mr. Slomp had abused which privileges. On the other hand, Mr. Slomp told me that he had received a personal congratulatory message from Mr. Calkins in December 2013 after his election to his position, but after that, every one of his attempts to set an appointment to meet Mr. Calkins in person was rebuffed due to the “too busy schedule” of the Wetaskiwin MP.

No matter what Mr. Calkins may be thinking of Mr. Slomp personally, his refusal to meet and speak to the elected president of a national organization does not look compatible with the understanding of democratic civility in our country, known for holding up the values and traditions of democratic governance.

There are probably other justifiable, harsher adjectives to describe this kind of attitude, but I will just say that I find it very “unhealthy” for officials of national stature failing to find at least a common platform to exchange opinions on any given issue.

In the week that Mr. Calkins refused to talk to Mr. Slomp, the price of wheat per bushel was $4.69 in the Prairies and $11.38 at the port of Vancouver, both for the same class of wheat.

And who is pocketing that difference in price is not difficult to guess: Grain traders and all the other third parties, making fat profits out of the sweat, labour, time and investment of the farmer.

The current picture is a direct result of the dismantling of the marketing authority of the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB). (There is much more in this week’s agriculture supplement on how the farmers forewarned the government of what was to come way back in 2011 before the CWB’s single desk marketing was abolished.)

One can clearly see that the brazenly ideological approach taken by successive Harper governments regarding the management of the economy has started to hurt farmers while benefiting corporations. Yet, it looks like there is more to come.

The issue that has prompted Mr. Calkins to react and write a letter to the Ponoka News the week before last is the controversy surrounding the omnibus bill, Agricultural Growth Act, better known as Bill C-18 and the proposed allegiance of Canada to a new international convention on the plant breeders’ rights under the very same bill.

Ponoka News has already reported on the subject and will continue to follow the debate and make its best effort to reflect both sides of the argument.

While we promise to report the discussion in a balanced fashion, I cannot help stating my own opinion that this new legislation has the potential to transform at least some Canadian farmers to labourers on their own farmland within a decade or so.

With the agricultural multinationals like Monsanto dictating what has to be grown and how, even the farmers in the United States, who generally put yield before quality, have had it. (

And the kind of corporate dominance mentioned in that story coming to Canadian farmland is not too far away, if Bill C-18 is adopted by the parliament.

One really wonders if Mr. Harper and his government are really aware of what they are doing to Canadian agriculture.