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Opinion: EU farmer demands don’t all favour Canada

Concessions stem from sustained pressure from farmers that is rarely seen in Canada.
crop report farmer 3
Producers in the European Union have made it clear to their governments that they’re mad as heck and aren’t going to take it anymore.

Canadian farmers may watch what’s happening on the streets of Europe this winter with a mixture of envy and admiration.

Producers in the European Union have made it clear to their governments that they’re mad as heck and aren’t going to take it anymore.

The list of grievances is long, ranging from onerous red tape and environmental regulations to subsidy cuts and cheap imports.

They’ve descended on highways and city streets with their tractors and hay bales, snarling traffic and generally creating havoc.

The strategy has paid off to some degree. The EU has scrapped a recommendation from its climate science advisers to force agriculture to cut non-carbon dioxide emissions 30 percent by 2040 from 2015 levels.

It has also withdrawn a law to reduce the use of pesticides, delayed green targets on fallow land and launched discussions with farm leaders.

The government concessions stemmed from a level of sustained, angry pressure from farmers that is rarely seen in this country.

There are many reasons for that. Canada has fewer farmers over a wider area, and perhaps have fewer grievances. And then, of course, Canadians are generally less militant than the folks across the pond.

An example occurred last year. When the French government threatened to tinker with the country’s pension system, the response of its citizenry was to hit the streets and burn down city hall.

But before farmers in this country cheer too loudly for their European counterparts’ success, it’s important to consider one of the protesters’ key demands and the implications for Canada if they chalk up a win on that file.

Alongside concerns about excessive environmental rules, with which many Canadian farmers can sympathize, there is a demand that the EU restrict food imports.

At the moment they’re mainly worried about cheap food from Ukraine, but what if they turn their sights on Canadian imports, and what if their government listens?

Europe is already a prickly place with which to do business. Just last week we talked about the trade disparity between the EU and Canada when it comes to beef and pork.

How loudly do we want to cheer a movement that could stifle our trade opportunities?

The bottom line is that protest-driven policy is never a good idea.

That said, there’s more than one lesson to be learned from this cautionary tale. Governments, particularly the federal one in Ottawa, should take note.

It appears many of the problems that have erupted into tractor blockades and bale bonfires in Europe can find their origins in a government that has moved too fast without paying enough attention to the ways policy can affect the lives of those on the ground.

We have a similar situation in Canada, although as yet not as dangerous.

Many producers are starting to mutter about overreach as they watch the federal government take steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Whether it is setting goals to reduce nitrous oxide emissions from fertilizer use or developing a plan to cut methane emissions from cattle, the demands placed on agriculture are beginning to pile up.

Then there’s the Liberal government’s efforts to hamstring a private member’s bill that would exempt on-farm natural gas and propane use from the carbon tax.

Farmers in this country have consistently worked through their various organizations to establish a constructive policy dialogue with governments, and their efforts must continue. It’s a very Canadian approach.

Though less exciting to watch, its preferable to action that involves mayhem on the streets as witnessed in Europe this winter.

Karen Briere, Bruce Dyck, Barb Glen, Michael Robin, Robin Booker and Laura Rance collaborate in the writing of Western Producer editorials.