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Monday, March 22, 2010

The Hicks Are Restless

Rumblings in the heartland:

So make no mistake: Murdoch's call for rural separatism is pure OLA [Ontario Landowners Association] politics.

A smart populist like Murdoch never has his finger an inch away from the pulse of the people who live on the county line roads. He knows that rural separatism is a convenient banner for holding together the collection of resentments OLA advocates exploit without needing to take a position on each one. Instead, calling for expelling Toronto from Ontario is a convenient way to get heads nodding without having to actually take the hard positions on ending protection of drinking water or other Landowner policy asks.

The author, Andrew Steele, is a former McGuinty advisor and so less than enamoured with conservatives, rural or otherwise. Yet he brings up some excellent points. Unbeknownst to the Toronto dominated media, there is a large amount of discontent building up in rural Ontario, with grievances focusing on environmentalist restrictions on landownership and use. The movement dates back to 2000 with the foundation of the Renfrew Landowners Association. The more ambitious, but similarly themed, Lanark Landowners Association, began as an ad hoc committee to advise Scott Reid on rural issues, and soon evolving into an effective pressure group. Using a series of carefully planned stunts, including culling dear who threatened crops, they quickly became a force across the province. Over the following decade a network of county level associations, eventually coming under the umbrella of the Ontario Landowners Association in 2006, was established. The new association's first President, and the previous head of the Lanark Association, was Randy Hillier, now Tory MPP for Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington. Hillier's election in 2007, and subsequent unsuccessful bid for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, have led some to dismiss the landowners movement as a flash of populist anger. Yet Hillier remains in the caucus, and played king-maker at the 2009 party convention. This gives the landowners' significant leverage in the party's internal politics, a leverage enhanced by the preponderance of rural members in the caucus. By 2011 most of the sitting MPPs in the Tory caucus will have to make peace with the landowners movement, or face the consequences.

Polite Queen's Park society greeted Hillier's election, and the growing success of the landowners movement, with strained credulity. The hicks are restless. Over what no one is quite sure. Hicks just seem to be that way. Indignant and quaint at the same time. With their boom sticks, tractors and sky god. In the lands north of Steeles the issues are clearer. One major source of contention is the provincial Clean Water Act of 2006. The Act's draconian enforcement provisions grant government officials the ability to trespass on private property - but not inside dwellings - without warrant for the purposes of inspection. These officials do not need probable cause to enter a property. In some ways this is only the extension, beyond city limits, of decades old controls on urban property 

The Food Safety and Quality Act of 2001 also empowers government officials to conduct searches without warrant, however it does require probable cause. The Act stipulates that meat which is slaughtered without a license, can only be consumed by members of the owner's family. The meat cannot even be served for dinner at the owner's home to non-family members. Late in 2009 Major Mark Tijssen was raided by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Ottawa police, acting under the provisions of the law, after a tipster reported Tijssen was butchering his own meat and distributing it to other members of a church group. After an outbreak of listeria in 2008 Tijssen, and other members of the church, decided that the publicly inspected meat system was unsafe and opted to purchase their own cows and have them privately slaughtered. The deed being done by a licensed slaughterhouse owner. The meat is then further cut and distributed to members of the group. 

The law, however, stipulates that uninspected meat cannot be transported off the site of slaughtering. The issue in question is whether Tijssen's alleged further butchering falls under this provision of the Act. It is not alleged that Tijssen mislead any members of the group. Those who took the meat were perfectly aware of its source, and most had grown-up around livestock. Major Tijssen holds a degree in biomedical toxicology from Guelph. These were well-informed consumers exercising a personal choice. A choice denied by nanny-statists. As a twist, Tijssen has found allies among the Muslim community, who ritually slaughter sheep to celebrate Eid. To urban dwellers, and non-Muslims, these particular infringements on basic liberty have little impact on daily life. They have neither the time or skill to slaughter their own meat and trust to others to provide safe and quality food. The Food Safety and Quality Act, like the Clean Water Act, looks to them to be a pretty uncontroversial bit of government supervised quality assurance. A freedom one rarely exercises is a freedom one is unlikely to defend. The cultural divide of modern Canada is less English and French, or even immigrant and native born, it is freedom loving rural dwellers versus increasingly nanny state absorbed urbanites. 

Posted by Richard Anderson on March 22, 2010 | Permalink


This nanny state absorbed urbanite doesn't feel like eating anyone's downer cows. And if the Tories think they can win in Ontario by pandering to whackjobs, good luck.

Posted by: bigcitylib | 2010-03-22 9:15:21 AM

Which is your choice. Something denied Major Tijssen and his friends.

Posted by: Publius | 2010-03-22 9:30:19 AM

Being an urbanite myself, I am honestly mistified by urbanite economic illiteracy. It's almost as if they want to send us back to the 15th century.

Posted by: Charles | 2010-03-22 9:59:48 AM

And notice BCL's statement, I'm beginning to think what most urbanites want is their own little dictatorship.

Posted by: Charles | 2010-03-22 10:01:14 AM

This article is entirely an Ontario affair. It does not apply in the real world.

Posted by: Zebulon Pike | 2010-03-22 11:45:13 AM

Perhaps the urbanites should produce their own food and supply their own resources and leave others to lead their own lives. For people who are totally dependant on "hick" land for survival, they, for the most part, are so removed from the natural world as to be ignorant of reality. This is invariably the problem when cities become to big and a world unto themselves.

Posted by: Alain | 2010-03-22 12:22:11 PM

Good point, Alain. I have long contended that kids from urban schools should be taken on a field trip to a farm, a slaughterhouse, a factory, a logging camp, an oil well, and a mine, so they can see firsthand where their stuff comes from and that there is no such thing as a zero-impact organism.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2010-03-23 6:29:51 AM

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