The Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM) has called on the federal government to expand the legal justification for self-defense. In early March 2017, 93 percent of its annual convention delegates voted in favour of a resolution indicating they believe rural residents do not have adequate rights to protect themselves or their property.
It is extremely frustrating when we have to get used to constantly taking keys out of our vehicles, locking doors and fuel tanks and being ever-mindful of possible theft. What SARM is asking for, however, does not represent much wisdom. Perhaps if more than five percent of their delegates had been women, SARM would have made a more thoughtful decision.
The National Farmers Union is not alone in rejecting SARM’s resolution: our position is shared by Canada’s Minister of Public Safety, Ralph Goodale and Gordon Wyant, Saskatchewan’s Minister of Justice. Thank goodness we live in Canada where common sense and a reliable justice system usually prevails. Our hard crime and gun statistics are in line with European countries when it comes to violence. In contrast, the USA — where exactly the kind of measures SARM is asking for are in effect — suffers a staggering number of incidents and victims.
While it is important to protect property owners from crime, it is equally important to protect them from fear-based tendencies that lead to vigilantism and justification of their own violence. We also find it disconcerting that SARM is vocal about protecting the property of rural dwellers yet seems to forget about the biggest robbery in history that has taken place in rural Saskatchewan over the span of several decades.
SARM’s voice has not been a loud one when it came to defending farmers against federal governments, the railways and the grain companies as they took apart and restructured Saskatchewan’s rural economic framework. Do today’s SARM delegates recall the impact on rural incomes when the Crow benefit was eliminated? Or how railway rationalization meant abandoned branch lines, fewer delivery points, increased handling speed and lower costs for the railroads and grain companies — but left farmers to pick up the extra delivery costs over longer distances and left municipalities to pay for fixing the increased road damage? The people who lost their jobs moved away and their wages are being spent elsewhere now.
Surely SARM delegates remember what was cut by the Harper government: agriculture research stations, PFRA Community pastures, the Indian Head Tree Farm. These were building blocks for thriving rural communities, now diminished or gone. Important as these were, the destruction of the Canadian Wheat Board overshadows them all.
The CWB sold farmers’ wheat and barley and returned all but the cost of sales to farmers every year. Then, the farmer received 90% or more of the value of grain sold, but now that portion has shrunk to between 40 and 60%, with the grain companies taking the rest. As a consequence, over $3 billion dollars a year no longer ends up in prairie farmers’ pockets: look for it in the offshore accounts of grain company shareholders instead.
Another asset the Harper government removed was the inward inspection authority of the Canadian Grain Commission. For 100 years the CGC made sure that what grain companies loaded at the elevator was the same weight and grade as what they unloaded at the port terminal. This quality control and fraud prevention system protected both the farmer and the end customer. Without it, Canada’s reputation for top quality grain is also a victim, and with it goes the ability to obtain a high price.
All these changes were designed and executed to consolidate profits and power for those at the top at the expense of farmers and the rural economy. The resulting losses for rural Saskatchewan are staggering and readily visible in our towns and communities.
It does not have to be this way. We can look to the example of Henry A. Wallace, US secretary of Agriculture during the 1930s, whose measures helped pull the country out of the Great Depression. Every dollar of profit a farmer makes generates another seven dollars of economic activity in their nearby communities due to the multiplier effect. By bringing in parity pricing, which guarantees farmers a minimum percentage of the consumer price of farm products, Wallace revitalized the American rural economy.
Agriculture is the sustainable economic base for Saskatchewan and it can become prosperous once again to support vibrant rural economies. We do not need guns to prevent the current grain robbery from going forward. We just need to re-tool the economy for on-farm profit making. By taking steps to prevent absentee ownership and by discarding the “bigger is better” philosophy, rural towns will be able to thrive, as they did in the past when farmers cooperated and forced governments to implement essential public policy.
Most people understand the difficulties facing RM councilors at the present time. But if they want to steer away from perpetual economic demise, they must start educating themselves about the bigger picture of what creates and maintains rural grassroots economic prosperity.
The NFU is there to help.
Jan Slomp, NFU president