There promises to be a lot of bull
flying around Parliament Hill tomorrow, but none of it on the
floor of the House of Commons.
A coalition of rural
interests is promising to lock down Wellington Street for half
the day with a noisy convoy of tractors, wagons, trucks and
trailers; sound and fury on the business end of a pitchfork.
For good measure, a dozen or so cattle are to be
sold in a mock auction -- but not before they're allowed to
strut about a makeshift corral; fattened cattle on the capital's
"We will be inconveniencing some people in order
for us to express some of the hardship people are suffering,"
said Randy Hillier, a Carleton Place-area resident and one of
the rally's main organizers.
"The intent is to make city people aware of what
the problems are."
Three great grievances are being stewed in a
piping-hot pot of rural unrest.
Firstly, as protesters see it, private property
rights are steadily eroding in this country; secondly,
government regulators are meddling in, if not trampling on,
traditional rural life; thirdly, rural Ontario is seriously
underrepresented in political chambers, weakening democracy and
directly contributing to points one and two.
Mr. Hillier, an electrician by trade, is vowing
that at least 100 tractors will make their way down the
Queensway, from points east and west, to merge into a great,
grinding mass down Kent and Metcalfe streets.
I have a lot of sympathy for the travails of
rural people in Eastern Ontario. I also wonder what they hope to
accomplish with this eclectic circus.
Anyone stuck in traffic or walking by --
accustomed to all manner of protest on the Hill -- will at least
ask: What do these guys want?
Good question. Long answer.
The day of protest is being led by Mr. Hillier's
group, the Lanark Landowners Association. It began life as a
collection of rural residents -- some farmers, some not --
principally fed up with the management of the deer population by
the Ministry of Natural Resources.
This is an Ontario issue, with some municipal
overtones. Soon gun control, a federal issue with some
provincial overtones, was being highlighted as another side of
the same coin.
Then municipal amalgamation, and the loss of the
rural voice on urban councils, was thrown into the mix. Then
sawmills in Renfrew County were targeted by the Ontario Ministry
of Environment for old wood waste.
Then maple syrup producers were being
tax-assessed by Ontario like industries.
Amidst all of this, the mad cow crisis hit the
beef and dairy sectors right across the country like a bomb.
At meetings across the Ottawa Valley, the list of grievances
grew and grew. A landowner
couldn't subdivide his
bush because an endangered bird was found; tree-cutting bylaws
were attacked as the work of ninny bureaucrats; manure
management regulations were seen as overkill; even well water
was facing fresh attention from a man with a clipboard.
The message in e-mails and news releases was simple: Government
is bad for rural Ontario. And so why take the fight to the seat
of our federal government?
"Just about all (the
problems) originate at Parliament Hill," said Mr. Hillier, on
the eve of the protest.
"Our democratic and
property rights are being taken away, and these are the
cascading consequences from those two fundamental problems."
What about the right of citizens to free passage on a city
"Well, I don't think we should confuse
rights and privileges, wants and needs. There is a fundamental
right to freedom of assembly and freedom to demonstrate. To
allow that to happen, there has to be inconvenience."
Two broad observations about this so-called rural revolution:
- Firstly, it is difficult to tell how broad an audience these
groups speak for and what hidden agendas might be at work or
inadvertently being piggy-backed.
MPs Scott Reid and Cheryl Gallant are often mentioned in land
association dispatches, though it isn't clear just how they
intend to deal with this motley list of complaints.
- Secondly, in some quarters, there is a deep-seated, possibly
unshakable, distrust of government.
deer issue. Numbers were at historic highs and the whitetail was
becoming a serious nuisance to farmers. We need to reduce the
population. Fine. The land association seems to think owning
property gives the title holder the right to shoot any pest that
steps over the fence line.
through the countryside whenever the farmer feels like it? I'm
not buying it.
The Ministry of Natural Resources
has vastly increased the number of deer that can be taken out of
the area that includes Lanark County. It has tried to address
the issue of special kill permits for farmers; it has arranged
workshops and meetings with senior staff.
nearly good enough, says the land association.
We only have one system of government, broken as it may be. We
need to listen to each other much better, but do so in a spirit
of basic respect.
And that -- even in downtown
Ottawa, even on a road clogged with cattle -- is a two-way
Contact Kelly Egan at 726-5896 or by e-mail,