On Aug. 15, Gerry Ritz, Stephen Harper’s minister of agriculture, abandoned Canada’s hog farmers.
After months of pleading for help, with a $3.2-billion sector at stake, the Harper government announced a loan program that only the most viable operations would consider, and a small amount to exit farmers out of the sector.
Employing tens of thousands of people from production to processing, Canada’s hog farmers contribute billions of dollars to rural communities from coast to coast. Hit hard by unfair labelling laws and subsidies in the U. S., and now the H1N1 “swine flu,” hog farmers can’t make ends meet through no fault of their own. Pork farmers are losing $40 a head. Cumulatively, that translates to over $1 billion in losses.
For the farmers who attended Ritz’s big announcement in Winnipeg, many left disappointed and betrayed. The Conservative announcement is a pittance designed to show action but achieve little.
The plan will add more debt to already indebted farmers and provide a backstop for bankers, not farmers. The plan will also exit farmers out of the industry through a buyout, to reduce supply in an effort to fix the industry. The problem is, in an integrated hog market, U. S. pork farmers will simply boost their production to offset any cuts made by Canadians. In essence, the Conservative government is handing over Canada’s hog sector to our southern neighbours. This is a sellout, not a buyout.
What we need to do is help our pork farmers weather the storm, help them get stronger and return profitability to the sector. This government could have acted long ago to avoid this crisis. Instead, it chose to meet the needs and demands of U. S. interests over standing with our hog farmers.
Where it counts, in action, this government has continually let Canadian farmers down. Not only on support for Canadian hog farmers; this government in 2008 promised flexible dollars for AgriFlex and then reneged on that promise. In 2007, it promised a new program called AgriInvest, but two years later it still isn’t up and running. Also in 2007, it promised a $100-million-per-year cost-of-production program but then cancelled it before it was implemented.
Farmers deserve more than broken promises. Farmers are among the hardest-working people across Canada and when they are hit by disasters beyond their control it is our duty to help. It is the Canadian way.