Do our politicians know what they are doing?

The politician that the old guard leadership of the Alberta Progressive Conservatives thought would save the party

The politician that the old guard leadership of the Alberta Progressive Conservatives thought would save the party might ultimately hit the final nail in its coffin: When Jim Prentice announced his candidacy for the leadership of the PCs, many hopefuls simply withdrew from the race, leaving the tracks wide open for the Ottawa-hardened politician to run to the finish line without any serious challenge. He did, and won the leadership and we all know what he came up with last week: the biggest blunder of any PC politician in living memory, blaming all Albertans for the spending decisions his predecessors made and led the province to the current mess. With a leader like Mr. Prentice, PCs may not even need an opposition to lose the election.

At the national level, Stephen Harper’s new defense minister is at pains trying to explain to Canadians how a Canadian Forces member was killed in so called “friendly fire” on Friday, March 6. But before that fatal incident, doesn’t Mr. Harper have some more fundamental explaining to do to the citizens of this country? Like what happened to the promise that the Canadian Forces deployed in Iraq would not be involved in any combat operations and who is the Canadian contingent there really supporting? Are we helping Kurdish formations who are trying to carve out a nation for themselves in northern Iraq, northeastern Syria and southeastern Turkey? Are we supporting Iraqi national army whose allegiance to the central government in Baghdad is quite questionable? Has there been any significant success in pushing the Islamic State from the territories it occupies to justify any extension of the Canadian contingent’s mission there? Exactly what did Sgt. Andrew Doiron die to achieve?

So much political and military controversy might be a little too much for our relatively quiet social and political life in this country. But something that happened last month, without a lot of fanfare and excitement, has much wider and long-term repercussions for the future of this country as an agricultural nation.

Bill C-18 reached royal assent two weeks ago and became law in the latest example of Stephen Harper’s brazen preference of corporate interests over those of the citizens, in this case the farmers, of this country. With that law, this government has agreed to empower the multinational companies to hold Canadian farmers hostage for decades to come.

This week, the rest of this column is reserved to National Farmers’ Union’s statement to explain the damage inflicted on the nation’s farming community by this new law:

From now on, seed companies’ exclusive rights to control new varieties of seed have been expanded, they have gained new ways to collect royalty revenue from farmers and a longer, twenty-year royalty collection period (twenty-five years for tree and vine varieties).

“By announcing Bill C-18’s passing at the headquarters of a private seed company, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz clearly signaled that the Agricultural Growth Act will primarily benefit agri-business corporations,” said Jan Slomp, National Farmers Union (NFU) President.

“The new law enables the government to erode and even eliminate the “farmers’ privilege” to save and re-use seed on their own holdings through regulation. The Act’s “essentially derived” clause also gives seed companies the right to control future varieties created by other breeders who use a protected variety as part of the breeding process,” said Ann Slater, NFU Vice President, Policy.

“Private plant breeding in Canada is dominated by Monsanto, DuPont Pioneer, Syngenta, Limagrain, Land O Lakes, KWS, Bayer Cropscience, and Dow AgroSciences, all multinational corporations with headquarters outside of Canada,” noted Terry Boehm, Chair of the NFU Seed and Trade Committee.

“These companies stand to gain the most from the Agricultural Growth Act and related changes to seed regulations and research funding. Farmers, however, will pay more for seed, and in future may have to pay  end-point royalties on their whole crop, including feed and forage fed to their own livestock.”

“Canada’s efficient and effective public sector plant breeding system, which includes Agriculture Canada research scientists, has produced most of our important cereal varieties,” Boehm added. “The federal government’s decision to stop public funding to the variety development level in important cereal crops means that now seed corporations will decide which new varieties will be commercialized, and will reap the royalty payments under this Act.”

“Restrictions on farmers’ seed saving, and the massive transfer of wealth from farmers to seed companies that will follow, are not necessary for the development of useful new varieties,” said Slomp. “It is a shame that Canada’s government has decided to pass a law that will enrich some of the wealthiest and most powerful global corporations at the expense of Canadian farmers and the biodiversity of Canada’s food system.”