Farmers’ protest

Farmers demonstrate in Gatineau, April 17. (BJ)

“Our end will be your hunger!”

Bonnie James
Local Journalism Initiative

GATINEAU – Three tractor convoys descended on downtown Gatineau on Wednesday, April 17, to protest the provincial government’s failure to make agriculture a priority in the recent budget and to raise awareness about the plight of the farmers. They came from Wakefield in the north, Luskville to the west, and the east end of Gatineau, towards Thurso. 11 tractors from the Pontiac participated. In total, around 30 tractors lined Blvd de la Carrière, which was closed for the event.

Approximately 100 agricultural producers gathered for a rally at the intersection of Blvd de la Carrière and Blvd du Casino. Signs on tractors and other farm vehicles, as well as hay bales, bore messages like “No farmers, no food!”, “Our end will be your hunger!”, “Jeune on en rêve, adulte on en crève.”, and a jab at the CAQ: “Contre Agriculture Québécoise”. Around 100 vehicles participated in the convoy, including the tractors.

The protest was organized by the Agricultural Producers Union (UPA) to demand reform of Ministry of Agriculture (MAPAQ) programs, particularly to provide better support for farmers in light of the escalating climate crisis. The producers are also demanding reform of the government’s agricultural vision. “It isn’t right that the economic sector that feeds the population three times a day receives less than 1% of the provincial budget.” said David Landry, UPA Communications Advisor.

“For more than two years, the agricultural sector has been facing significant challenges. The UPA has repeatedly urged governments to act urgently to support the sector in the face of economic downturns, rapid inflation, rising interest rates, and climate change. In response, the government has proposed a limited number of adjustments to existing programs and various so-called “emergency” measures that do not meet the expectations and needs of agricultural producers.”  Landry added.

Audrey Lemaire, Vice-President of the UPA Outaouais-Laurentides Federation and dairy producer in Saint-Jérôme said: “If the announced decline in net farm income by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) for 2024 materializes, it will be the darkest year for our sector since the 1930s! What signal does this send to our future generations? Who will want to take over our farms when the financial burden and workload don’t even allow for a decent living income?”

Jeff Overton of Big Rock Farm brought his tractor from Aylmer to participate in the demonstration. “We’re not being supported the way that we should be. We’re overlooked as an essential service. We have to fight tooth and nail to receive any kind of funding from the government and it takes forever.” he said.

Gema Villavicencio of Pure Conscience Farm in Bristol was also in attendance. She said that she was there to represent farms of all sizes that are going through huge financial crises due to high interest rates, inflation, and the enormous costs involved in farming. She said that her husband has to work a fulltime job off the farm because without his salary they couldn’t afford to continue. She said that more government support is needed for small farms as many existing programs aren’t tailored to small scale operations and small farms aren’t covered by crop insurance.

Pontiac MNA and Liberal agriculture critic André Fortin drove in from Quebec City to attend the event and hear the farmers’ concerns. “If government doesn’t act quick there’s going to be a lot of farms across the province, and in the Pontiac, that will close. That would be a tremendous loss to our economy; to our food supply; and a tremendous loss to our Quebec heritage.” he said. The only MNA in attendance, Fortin said he could understand why the producers feel that they are “at the bottom of the totem pole of government priorities when they didn’t get anything in the budget and none of their representatives are here today. It’s unfortunate that in 2024 agriculture is still treated as a second-class file by government.”