Recent History – 2000
Jan. 13, 2000
By Mark Nielsen, Daily News Staff
At least as many angry words as constructive solutions were offered up when about 80 farmers showed up at Farmington Hall Wednesday night to give their views on the state of agriculture in the Peace. But Reform Party agriculture critic Gerry Ritz said afterwards that even angry words may help bring solutions to the farm income crisis that’s affecting producers across western Canada.
“The catastrophe is real,” he said following the meeting hosted by Prince George-Peace River MP Jay Hill. “Some of what we’ve heard tonight fortifies us to go back to Ottawa and scream a little louder. “These are real folks and somehow we have to attach that real story, that real life tragedy, to this issue.”
Ritz is touring western Canada to hear from farmers about how they’ve been affected and to take in ideas on how to resolve the situation that has seen incomes drop despite strong yields.
Farmers spent much of the more-than two hour meeting telling Ritz and Jay Hill about how hard it is to make a living in agriculture these days.
Nick Parsons, who drove a combine down to Victoria two years ago to raise awareness of the farmers’ plight among provincial politicians, once again used some props to make his point.
Resting atop a box holding a bushel of wheat, Parsons had placed three loaves of bread to show how much the farmer gets back. The rest of that bushel, he said, will make another 57 loaves.
He also held up a book of vintage Second World War food stamps, a keepsake from his mother, and said there may come a time when they’ll be back in use again if the problem is not addressed.
Comments ranging from separating from the rest of Canada to going on strike were made by frustrated onlookers. But on a few occasions, improvements to the tax regime were also brought up.
Ritz said that the sentiments expressed were largely similar to those made at previous meetings. “Some meetings go right into ‘let’s separate because they don’t understand us anyway,’” he said. “There’s always the talk of taxes and I think that’s a key element in it.”
He added that the Agricultural Income Disaster Assistance program (AIDA) is failing to deliver help to those who need it. Indeed, Ritz said AIDA is more accessible in Ontario than it is in the west. “We saw that in the average pay-outs,” he said.
Hill said the turnout was impressive. “Unfortunately, it shows you the depth of the problem,” he said.
If the federal government made the commitment, Hill said the problems farmers face could be resolved in three years. “Yes, it’s going to be a few billion dollars, but now we’re in a surplus position with the federal budget,” he said.