Canola campaign targets China

A grassroots organization called Suits and Boots is urging Canadians to express their displeasure with China’s ban on canola exports by contacting Chinese officials in Canada.

Its campaign urging people to email officials, #StandUpToChina, includes a provocative picture of a farm family in a canola field facing oncoming tanks.

Rick Peterson, an Edmonton businessperson who founded Suits and Boots, a not-for-profit organization that he says reflects the resource sector and agriculture, said prairie farmers are being used as pawns in a diplomatic trade war that has nothing to do with them.

He said about 80 percent of the organization’s 3,800 supporters come from the Prairies.

“When this whole canola and China dispute began we knew that a lot of our supporters and followers would have concerns on this issue and we thought it was important … to stand up and have a voice and allow people to have the ability to say what they think,” he said in a May 16 interview, the day after the campaign launched.

Suits and Boots previously led a campaign against Bill C-69, the federal legislation that would change the environmental assessment process for pipelines.

The organization doesn’t have memberships, is not a registered lobby and has no paid staff, Peterson said.

He said it allows people who may not have another way to voice their concerns to do just that.

The Suits and Boots website has listed the contact information for the Chinese ambassador, Lu Shaye, and four consul generals in Toronto, Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver.

Peterson said he has heard that hundreds of emails have already been sent; only two automatic form replies were received.

He also said he hasn’t heard any concern about the use of the tank image and reference to Tiananmen Square in Beijing.

It’s been nearly 30 years since the tanks rolled in that city and the image of one man facing them down has made a lasting impression and become emblematic of the protest.

“Tiananmen Square was a flagrant display of power to suppress something they didn’t like,” Peterson said. “I think here in Canada the ability to shut down an industry, to shut down their exports and to close off the canola growers on a whim’s notice exhibits a fairly significant use of power as well, too.”

Peterson, who was a candidate for the Conservative Party of Canada leadership, said Suits and Boots will leave the politics of the dispute to politicians.

“All we’re doing is highlighting issues,” he said. “That’s the true definition of grassroots.”

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