With the federal election candidates in Kenora-Rainy River riding continuing to debate how to fund health care and what to do with tax surpluses, the district’s agricultural community is feeling left out of the equation.
Farmers here—and across the country—are simply being forgotten on all parties’ platforms, they say.
“Right now, farmers are less than two percent of the population. Even though we’re supplying most of the food, there’s not enough of us to be heard,” said Kim Desserre, a member of the Rainy River Federation of Agriculture.
“If things continue the way they are, there’s going to be less and less farmers,” she continued, arguing the candidates don’t even have contacts in the agricultural community and that incumbent MP Robert Nault has done little to stay in touch with the sector.
“About three years ago when I was president of the federation, we tried to set up a meeting with Mr. Nault and they said he’d call us back,” Desserre said.
“[Current RRFA president] Linda Armstrong saw him at another function and made mention of this and asked him who his agricultural contacts were in this district
“It wasn’t even a farmer he was in contact with,” she charged.
“There’s nobody out there who really impresses in terms of knowledge when it comes to agriculture,” agreed Peter Spuzak, president of the Rainy River Cattlemen’s Association.
“We’re a minority, the people that grow the food are a minority and they tend to put us on the backburner.”
Both Desserre and Spuzak agreed that in order for the industry to survive, Ottawa will have to help with safety nets and specific assistance such as fuel-tax refunds.
So far, that help has been perceived as a drop in the bucket.
“The thing is when the government gives you these packages, the media push it up and everyone says the farmers will be okay but we have nothing compared to other industries,” said Spuzak.
“We’re at the bottom of the ladder,” he lamented.
“Sure they need baseball diamonds and things like that but I’ve seen them put tax dollars into projects that are just foolish,” he stressed. “If I ran my farm like that, I’d be out of business in a year-and-a-half.”
The farming population here appears to be dwindling as a large number now have jobs off the farm to supplement their income, and most youth look elsewhere to make a living.
“If you look at the Rainy River District, it’s mostly senior citizens who are farming,” Spuzak said. “There’s a tremendous number of people who work [off the farm] to pay their taxes and turn around to spend their profit on the farm, to do what, to produce cheaper food for others?
“Come income tax time, there’s less and less opportunity to put costs of your farm to work in your favour,” Spuzak noted. “You show a little bit of profit and you’re going to be taxed to death until there’s nothing left.
“You can’t even turn your farm over to your kids because if you give it to them, you’ll be putting them in debt.”
Not only does the agricultural community feel left out of the campaign but the debate is being kept out of the agricultural community for the first federal election in years.
“Another thing that’s disappointing is since the OFA came to Rainy River 25 years ago, we’ve hosted a debate,” said Desserre. “In the last provincial one, they couldn’t fit us in and for this federal election they couldn’t fit us in.
“That gives us a feeling that the farming community is not a priority,” she remarked.
“If it was another sector in the work force that was a little more powerful, they would make it,” agreed Spuzak. “One of the reasons they can’t make it is they know what the outcome will be.
“It’s the golden rule—whoever has all the gold makes the rules but that’s not the golden rule I was brought up with,” he added. “They’re keeping the little guys spinning.”