Farmers warned about losing public support

Rex Murphy points out similarities between western farmers and the east coast fishery during Manitoba Ag Days

A CBC icon praised producers at Manitoba Ag Days in Brandon late last month, noting their “absolute genius” on the land and calling them the inheritors of a great tradition of hard work and helping one’s neighbour.

However, he warned that Canadians are losing appreciation for farming and other key industries that built this country, such as fisheries and oil.

With wit and sarcasm, Rex Murphy slammed the carbon tax on farmers and questioned governments and the media for focusing on climate change and identity politics, saying he’s perplexed by it all.

“When I hear that the No. 1 priority is climate change,” he said Jan. 22 in the Keystone Centre, “it makes no sense. I don’t know what to do….The poor Newfoundlander, we have been waiting for warmer weather since 1497,” he said to laughter.

Murphy became a familiar face on CBC TV’s the National. He also hosted CBC radio’s Cross-Country Checkup for more than 20 years, and he still writes a column for the National Post.

Murphy grew up collecting eggs on his family’s small mixed farm in Newfoundland. He said he’d have a hard time today convincing the National’s higher-ups in Toronto to cover a farm story, but “if you walk down a street in Ontario and find a washroom with three signs, I can get you 12 minutes coverage. It’s wrong.”

Murphy said Canadians are at risk of losing the seminal values of hard work, selflessness and dedication embraced by those who toil at farming, fisheries and energy. Because of these industries Canadians became affluent and were “insulated” from the harsh realities of hunger and want in most of the rest of the world. “We are spared so much.”

But the old values are slipping, he believes.

“If we get careless with what we’ve inherited, we will not continue to have it.”

Murphy won over his audience by quipping that farmers use fertilizer as a key element in what they produce, but in his field, fertilizer’s the crop.

“And God knows I’ve been shoveling my share of it.”

The core of his 70-minute speech, however, was a serious deliberation about the state of Canadian agriculture, government and media, and he told stories about the commonalities between western farmers and the east coast fishery.

In the Depression years, when prairie producers were hit by drought and many went hungry, Newfoundlanders sent barrels of salted cod to help feed them. In the 1990s when the cod fishery collapsed, putting thousands out of work, prairie folk, unique among Canadians, he said, responded with strong support for Newfoundlanders.

Murphy ended his talk with a warning: “Diversity is much more than face colour,” he said, in a veiled critique of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Diversity also means tolerance for farming, oil production and other industries that built “one of the greatest countries on the face of the Earth.” He also expressed sympathy for the plight of Albertans, who are seeing crippling unemployment and rising social concerns amidst the flight of capital and companies in our anti-oil culture.

Somehow, Canadians must find common ground and common themes as we used to do, he concluded, if we are to move forward together in prosperity. The packed theatre gave him a strong ovation.

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