SARM delegates aim at wrong target

The Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities has called on the federal government to expand the legal justification for self-defence.

In March, 93 percent of delegates at SARM’s annual convention voted in favour of a resolution indicating they believe rural residents do not have adequate rights to protect themselves or their property.

It is frustrating when we have to get used to taking keys out of vehicles, locking doors and fuel tanks and being ever-mindful of possible theft.

However, what SARM is asking for does not represent much wisdom.

The National Farmers Union is not alone in rejecting SARM’s resolution. Our position is shared by Canada’s minister of public safety, Ralph Goodale, and Gordon Wyant, Saskatchewan’s minister of justice.

Thank goodness we live in Canada, where common sense and a reliable justice system usually prevail.

While it is important to protect property owners from crime, it is equally important to protect them from fear-based tendencies that lead to vigilantism and justifications of their own violence.

We also find it disconcerting that SARM is vocal about protecting the property of rural dwellers yet seems to forget about the biggest robbery in history that has taken place over the span of several decades.

SARM’s voice has not been loud when it came to defending farmers against federal governments, the railways and the grain companies as they restructured the rural economic framework.

Do today’s SARM delegates recall the impact on rural incomes when the Crow Benefit was eliminated, or how railway rationalization led to lower costs for railroads and grain companies, but left farmers to pay the extra costs those changes meant and left municipalities to pay for the increased road damage?

The people who lost their jobs moved away and their wages are now spent elsewhere.

Surely SARM delegates remember what was cut by the Harper government: agriculture research stations, community pastures, the Indian Head Tree Farm.

Important as these were, the destruction of the Canadian Wheat Board overshadows them all.

The CWB sold farmers’ wheat and barley and returned all but the cost of sales to farmers every year. With the CWB gone, more than $3 billion a year no longer ends up in farmers’ pockets.

All these changes were designed to consolidate profits and power for those at the top, at the expense of farmers and the rural economy. The resulting losses for rural Sask-atchewan are staggering and readily visible in our towns and communities.

It does not have to be this way.

We can look to the example of Henry A. Wallace, the United States secretary of agriculture during the 1930s, whose measures helped pull the country out of the Great De-pression. Every dollar of profit a farmer makes generates another $7 of economic activity in their nearby communities due to the multiplier effect.

By bringing in parity pricing, which guarantees farmers a minimum percentage of the consumer price of farm products, Wallace revitalized the American rural economy.

Agriculture is the sustainable economic base for Saskatchewan and it can become prosperous again.

We do not need guns to prevent the grain robbery. We just need to re-tool the economy for on-farm profit making.

By taking steps to prevent absentee ownership and by discarding the bigger-is-better philosophy, rural towns will be able to thrive, as they did in the past when farmers co-operated and forced governments to implement essential public policy.

Most people understand the difficulties facing RM councillors. But if they want to steer away from perpetual economic demise, they must educate themselves about the bigger picture of what creates and maintains rural grassroots economic prosperity.

Jan Slomp is National Farmers Union president.

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