think they can ignore it and it'll just go away. Well, it's not
going to go away."
'Rural revolution' takes to the road
Lanark farmers joined counterparts from
southwestern Ontario in a blockade of Highway 401 to bring attention
to growing anger at a host of issues affecting rural life. Andy
The Ottawa Citizen
Saturday, January 22, 2005
TILLSONBURG, Ont. - It was 5:30 a.m. when the bus came to an
abrupt stop outside the darkened windows of the Putnam Community
Centre, just east of Ingersoll, Ont.
A golden sliver of light was growing on the horizon, silhouetting
the grain silos that dot the landscape. A regiment of 36 people,
some farmers and some rural residents, disembarked from the bus they
had boarded in Carleton Place exactly eight hours earlier. They had
travelled through the night on a cramped coach to take part in the
latest incarnation of the "rural revolution," a cause championed by
the Lanark Land Owners' Association to which they belong.
growing sense that rural Ontario, and indeed the rest of
rural Canada, is under attack."
..."Governments and bureaucrats are killing rural Canada
with excessive regulations and intrusive legislation."
Yesterday, more than 250 farm tractors blockaded Highway 401,
shutting down both the eastbound and westbound lanes for hours at a
time between Putnam and Ingersoll. The protest was initiated by area
tobacco growers who feel the provincial government's anti-smoking
legislation is hurting their business. Impressed with the Lanark
association's previous demonstrations, Tillsonburg area tobacco
farmers asked the organization for help. And the Lanark group
answered the call. These self-appointed rural revolutionaries
carried placards reading, "This land is our land. Governments back
Their message was clear: Governments and bureaucrats are killing
rural Canada with excessive regulations and intrusive legislation.
According to the organizers, the protest was a sign of things to
"I think you're going to see a very strong, united rural movement
throughout Ontario and across Canada," Randy Hillier, president of
the Lanark association, said after the blockade. "People are
recognizing they can make a difference if they just step up to the
Mr. Hillier says the bureaucracy in this province is bullying
farmers and rural people. "Bullies count on people to be fearful. We
don't have fear."
think you're going to see a very strong, united rural
movement throughout Ontario and across Canada. ...People are
recognizing they can make a difference if they just step up to the
-Randy Hillier, President of the Lanark Landowners'
Rural Ontario is a diverse expanse of pastoral landscapes,
ancient stone farm houses, rusty wire fences that run along lonely
roads, quiet villages where everyone knows everyone else, grazing
cattle and sprawling fields. Coffee shops and corner stores. It may
seem idyllic, but beneath it all tensions are simmering. There's a
growing sense that rural Ontario, and indeed the rest of rural
Canada, is under attack.
Increasingly stringent government regulations are provoking
unrest among farmers and their neighbours. Some accuse politicians
of pandering to big-city interests, leaving their rural counterparts
in the dust.
The Lanark Landowners' Association says it's tired of waiting for
action from governments and interest groups.
The association's emphatic president, Randy Hillier, is leading
what he calls the "rural revolution." Ruthless in its accusations
and emboldened by a large following, Mr. Hillier and his
organization have launched a campaign of civil disobedience to bring
attention to the plight of rural Ontario. It's not a strategy
everyone favours, but it's one the Lanark group says is necessary.
Despite critics who say inconveniencing the public won't garner
support for the cause, the revolution is pushing forward.
"The fact that they keep getting people out speaks for
itself. If they were totally without basis, you wouldn't
get so many people going out on a cold day to make a
statement like this."
-Doug Clark, Editor of the
FREE PRESS ADVOCATE
"We're encouraging our members to contact their MPs and
MPPs, the people responsible for the legislation that is
causing us problems. ... If they don't listen to some of
what's being said, they might not be re-elected."
-Gary Struthers, a spokesman for the Ontario Federation
It started last March when 800 people blockaded a busy Ottawa
intersection with farm equipment. Then in April, thousands of
farmers and rural residents converged on Parliament Hill, with their
livestock and tractors in tow, grinding traffic to a halt. In June,
the association staged an illegal deer hunt to protest regulations
that prevent farmers from killing nuisance animals on their
property. In the fall, it held two food strikes in Pakenham,
accompanied by more road blocks. The association even staged a mock
trial in Perth, acquitting farmers who sell unregulated meat,
produce and dairy products, and convicting government bureaucrats of
impeding their freedom.
It seems the protests have the attention of at least one
high-profile politician. Ottawa Mayor Bob Chiarelli has called for a
special summit this spring to address the discontent that has been
festering in the city's rural sections since amalgamation in 2001.
Yet yesterday's massive blockade of Highway 401 was the first in
a series of threats, made directly to federal and provincial
politicians, including Prime Minister Paul Martin and Ontario
Premier Dalton McGuinty.
The Lanark farmers set Jan. 14 as a deadline for the politicians
to respond to demands. Evidently those demands weren't addressed,
and the protest went ahead. Along with yesterday's blockade, the
association is threatening to block international border crossings
and major highways every Friday, culminating with a demonstration at
Queen's Park in Toronto on March 9.
It's not exactly clear just what would pacify the rural
revolution. The Lanark group has asked for an amendment that would
enshrine rural lifestyle and property rights in the Canadian
Constitution. But that's hardly a short-term goal.
It also cites grievances with a variety of legislation, including
the Nutrient Management Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the
Amalgamation Act, the Environmental Protection Act and the Fish and
Wildlife Act. Certainly all of this legislation has a major impact
on rural communities. In particular, after the Walkerton water
tragedy, the Ontario government began developing a litany of
stringent regulations to safeguard the province's water. Yet many
farmers and rural businesses say they're paying for these
regulations, suffering financially and emotionally.
Calling bureaucrats and politicians incompetent, ignorant and
cowardly, Mr. Hillier and the Lanark association say civil
disobedience is the only option left.
Yesterday, followers echoed that sentiment. Among them were Bert
and Marion Timmins from Almonte. They run a small beef cattle
operation. But when they talk about their life's work, they speak
with an air of sadness, of resignation.
"I like to think of farmers as a visible minority," Mr. Timmins
said. "We just don't get as much attention as the other ones."
When the BSE crisis hit, their livelihood fell through the floor.
The Timmins are still holding on to 45 cattle, unwilling to give in
just yet. Even as he approaches age 70, Mr. Timmins dreams of better
days ahead for the farm.
Like his friends, he's frustrated that governments aren't
interested in addressing rural issues. "They think they can ignore
it and it'll just go away. Well, it's not going to go away."
Mr. Timmins' cattle are virtually worthless as long as the
American border remains closed to Canadian beef. It costs him more
to feed them than he'd get for selling them. And he's hardly seen
any of the much-anticipated government assistance packages for beef
The Black family of Stittsville shared Mr. Timmins' concerns at
Laura Black came home after four years of university to find
things very changed. "The family farm was not the same as I left
it," she said.
Her family's steers that once sold for $1,200 a head were only
worth $40 after the BSE crisis.
"You get a nice steak for that price in a restaurant. But you can
buy the whole steer for the same price," she said, baffled by the
absurdity of the situation.
She thinks most urbanites don't have any understanding of the
issues facing rural Ontario. And she hopes high-profile protests,
like yesterday's, will change that, even if it inconveniences the
"We hope people can see we wouldn't be doing this if we didn't
have to," Ms. Black said. "I think we need to have these rural
strikes just to let people know we're completely up against a wall.
Imagine being told you no longer make $50,000 a year. You now make
$10,000 a year. Don't you think there'd be a strike the next day?"
And beef farmers weren't the only ones with grievances yesterday.
Sawmill owners complained of being shut down because the Ministry of
Environment deemed large quantities of sawdust to be toxic. So they
are angered when they see sawdust used in Ottawa's public gardens in
A landfill employee from Lanark Highlands said he no longer
recycles glass because the same ministry decreed his simple sorting
system wasn't up to code. But without sufficient resources, he had
to abandon glass recycling altogether.
Others are upset about smoking bylaws. Some say they're treated
rudely by Ottawa city officials. And the list goes on and on.
Yesterday's protest was about rural Ontarians coming together to
express their discontent. Decked out in jumpsuits and balaclavas to
combat the frigid temperatures, they formed a convoy of tractors
several kilometres long on Highway 401. The OPP diverted vehicles
onto detour routes, out of sight from the protesters. But the rural
revolution did command a heavy media presence.
So, do these high profile protests work?
The Ontario Federation of Agriculture decided not to participate
in yesterday's protest, but rather to take a neutral position. Like
most established organizations in the agriculture sector, the OFA
advocates dialogue and negotiations with governments, not radical
protests. "We appreciate some of their concerns, but this type of
activity is against the law to begin with," Gary Struthers, a
spokesman for the OFA, said.
"We're encouraging our members to contact their MPs and MPPs, the
people responsible for the legislation that is causing us problems.
... If they don't listen to some of what's being said, they might
not be re-elected."
But Doug Clark, the editor of the Free Press Advocate newspaper,
isn't so quick to question the Lanark association's methods.
"The fact that they keep getting people out speaks for itself. If
they were totally without basis, you wouldn't get so many people
going out on a cold day to make a statement like this," Mr. Clark
"If I was the government of Ontario, I'd be looking at this very
carefully. I think anything that draws attention to the rural
plight, that harms no one, is acceptable dissidence. We have the
right to dissent, and they're exercising the right to dissent."
Ottawa Citizen 2005