Where’s Pontiac’s seat at the table?

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Dispatches from the 148 by Fred Ryan


Dispatches from the 148 by Fred Ryan

Two big economic projects in Pontiac’s spotlight, both still getting organized, are the abattoir at Shawville’s edge, and Livewell’s cannabis grow-op and research facility in the industrial park in Litchfield just outside Portage-du-Fort. They are, basically, just about all that’s new on Pontiac’s economic front – and they are both agricultural.

As hot, flashy, and revolutionary as the digital economy is in the world, agriculture is still not only necessary, but it promises growth – seven billion people eat a lot, and the planet’s human numbers are only growing. As trade and communications go fractal, so do the opportunities within the agricultural realm. It would be a huge mistake to write off agriculture as a “sunset industry”, to use the current federal government’s term. 

There are too many “sunset” industries still operating, still providing services and still generating jobs to ignore them. Feeding the world is a big one. After each sunset comes morning and everyone starts eating all over again.

Multiple fish-farming licenses are coming up for renewal on the West Coast this year and there’s an effort to cancel them because of the pollution associated with fish farming and their threat to
wild stocks.  However, cancellation seems foolish, given the rapid decline in fish stocks all over the world. United Nations estimates of the wild fish stocks’ productivity is a pretty glum reading. Obviously what’s called for are better fish-farming methods and practises, since the alternative will put uncontrolled pressure on the remaining wild fish stocks. There have been many studies and experiments with aquaculture improvements, so giving up and cancelling the licenses or letting them lapse because farming of any sort is “not important”, is in decline, is not digital, is unmistakable foolishness. Farming’s market-share is growing. And they’re talking lakes now, not the sea.
   
Likewise for free-trade negotiations (an awful name, since the only ones getting anything for free in these deals are the massive nonlocal/multi-state corporations); the farming
provisions in these agreements threaten our agricultural industry, not support it. Especially in the Pontiac, where our dairy industry has proven it
can grow and prosper. Although these trade deals are done in secret (another reason for their awfulness), we have to assume that the same arrangements are on the table that were agreed to in the trade deal with Europe, also done in secret. Our dairy industry’s supply management system is, in its essence, under attack as a “subsidy”. To use a
technical term, one appropriate to agricultural, that’s
bullshit! 

Agriculture is not “sunset” in any sense, it is growing in all its versions, from niche markets to cash-cropping. Canadian, especially Pontiac, producers should be aided in every way possible, not squeezed by foreign market forces just because that’s what happens (or doesn’t) in some grin-and-bear-it trade deal.

It should be very clear to everyone that agriculture will continue as the world develops more disposable income; a large agricultural economy has the upper hand, so we should play that hand. Canada does much, much more than build autos for the US, or supply the Yanks with raw materials. Yet the impression we get from these secret negotiations is that Canadian negotiators are hesitant and apologetic – and supporting mainly our financial sector or intellectual property rights. This is Canada! Why can’t our government negotiators play poker as if they could actually win a hand or two? (OK, the Trudeau government is committed to not offending Mr Trump, but, come on, government, we are not at the mercy of trans-national corporations – they need our materials (and, yes, we need their markets)).

So these two events – fish-farming and farm
supply management – are in the news, and Pontiac ought to keep our attention on them if only as barometers to measure the accomplishments and ability of the present government. It’s coming up for renewal, just like the fish-farming licenses, and we need measuring sticks to decide if there is a renewal coming in 2019. Voting for parties as if they are favourite sports teams is self-destructive. Pontiac has world class dairy producers – and we have so many lakes we could become fish-farmers in a big way, too. What we need is leadership.