Stephen Harper abandons Canada’s hog farmers, writes Liberal agriculture critic

Dear Editor,

On August 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 of money 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 labeling laws and subsidies in the US, 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 that 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 Conservative 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, US 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 sell-out, 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, they chose to meet the needs and demands of US 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 they promised a new program called AgriInvest but two years later it still isn’t up and running. Also in 2007, they 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.

That is why, in 2003, when the beef sector was hard hit by BSE, my government, a Liberal government, delivered a $2 billion aid package providing direct support to beef farmers, new money to build new markets and invest in beef processing capacity.

Our government worked hard to balance Canada’s federal budget, paying off debt and prudently managing Canada’s taxpayer dollars so when disasters like BSE hit, we had the capacity to deliver support to those in need. Unfortunately, under Stephen Harper, this is no longer the case.

Liberal leader, Michael Ignatieff, made a commitment earlier this year that we would develop Canada’s agricultural policy from the farm up, not Ottawa down. A Liberal government would get Canada’s finances back in order and balance the budget so we have the capacity to support our farmers in their time of need.

Wayne Easter

Critic for Agriculture, Agri-food and the Canadian Wheat Board