Harper gov’t not learning its lessons
Afamous philosopher once said those who ignore the mistakes of the past are condemned to repeat them.
It seems the Harper government is doomed to repeat the mistakes of history, even those of their own creation.
Take Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz’s explanation for the job cuts at Agriculture and Agri-food Canada and the impending closure of the Agroforestry Development Centre in Indian Head at the end of 2013.
“Farmers don’t farm like they did 100 years ago,” Ritz said. “We want to make sure we’re focusing on the right programs for tomorrow’s agriculture.”
In fact, when the tree nursery at Indian Head was started in 1901, there wasn’t a tree or shrub to be found on the bald prairie. In the more than 110 years since, the tree nursery has produced more than 650 million seedlings to provide shelter from the elements for tens of thousands of Prairie farmsteads.
But it was during the height of the Great Depression in 1935, when the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration was created, the federal tree nursery became the PFRA’S shelterbelt centre, producing trees and shrubs for use in shelterbelts that conserve moisture and reduce the soil erosion that had turned Canada’s breadbasket into a desert.
True, farming methods have changed over the years and the zero-till cropping techniques and use of air seeders and other large agricultural equipment have resulted in the large-scale removal of shelterbelts.
But there’s ample evidence to suggest that prolonged use of zero till has compacted and hardened the Prairie soil, which will result in increased tillage, leading to more soil erosion and loss of soil moisture. Moreover, despite the wet springs we’ve had recently, all indications are that with climate change, the Prairies will become hotter and drier in the decades ahead. The destruction of shelterbelts and closure of the Agroforestry Development Centre in Indian Head are exactly the wrong things to be doing in light of global warming. We will need to conserve all the soil moisture we can, and trees help to keep that moisture on the land.
Even farm groups that are generally supportive of the Harper government have blasted the cuts to agriculture spending in the budget.
The Grain Growers of Canada, an umbrella group representing normally progovernment farm organizations, like the Western Canadian Wheat Growers and Western Barley Growers Association, roundly criticized the budget cuts to agricultural research, especially in areas such as spring wheat, pesticide application, and varietal development.
“Farmers across Canada are divided on many issues, but the one issue we all agree on as being important is research,’’ said Grain Growers president Stephen Vandervalk, referring to the divisive Canadian Wheat Board debate that has pitted farmer against farmer.
As for the cuts to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), have the Tories learned nothing from the past? How does cutting front-line inspection staff and services increase the health and safety of Canadians?
Has Ritz forgotten the 2008 listeriosis outbreak that killed 22 Canadians? At the time of the outbreak, Ritz told a news conference “our highest priority continues to be making sure that Canadian families’ food supply is safe”, boasting that the Conservative government had hired 200 more inspectors at the CFIA.
Later that year, he blundered badly in a tasteless joke about the outbreak in a conference call with government officials, calling it “death by a thousand cuts, or should I say cold cuts’’ and stuck his foot in it again when he said (jokingly) he hoped the first listeriosis victim from P.E.I. was Liberal MP Wayne Easter.
Now Ritz is announcing cuts of up to 100 inspectors at CFIA, reversing the increases in inspection staff put in place following the listeriosis outbreak. This despite Ritz’s claims that “the agency will not make any changes that would in any way place the health and safety of Canadians at risk”, noting that $51 million has been added to CFIA’S budget over the next two years, plus $100 million in last year’s budget.
These are the cruelest cuts of all, since we have only Ritz’s bland assurances to fall back on. After all, has the minister ever misspoke himself before?