By Will Verboven, Contributing Editor
MOST AMERICANS visiting the English-speaking parts of Canada probably don’t see a lot of differences between our two countries’ cultural values, economic standards and way of life. The urban/agriculture gap state of mind is probably similar to the United States, but Canada has additional nuances. For instance, consumers in Canada are even more ignorant of where their food comes from, as they are oblivious to its national origin.
Most Canadians have no idea that, for much of the year, fruits and vegetables on grocery shelves in the great white cold north come mainly from Washington, California, Arizona, Florida and Mexico. That knowledge gap has rather serious implications if droughts in those areas get so severe that fresh produce supplies to Canada may well be cut off. Luckily in terms of food basics like dairy, eggs, meat, cereals, oilseeds, root crops and greenhouse vegetables, Canada is self- sufficient year around. However, that good fortune doesn’t register much with consumers up here either. Ag producer organizations, particularly in Alberta, spend a lot of time and money trying to educate young people in schools about where their food comes from – but those groups are up against the formidable propaganda machines of animal rights and green left groups.
If ever there were devious perpetrators driving the growing gap between urban society and agriculture, it’s those nefarious anti-agriculture lobby groups. They are renowned for being able to paint the most horrendous images of commercial agriculture in the most negative way. They are particularly successful with impressionable young people in urban schools. Part of that is because animal rights/green lobby groups have been able to influence and radicalize students studying to become teachers at colleges and universities. They have not done that by distributing glossy brochures to students; instead, they actively promote their odious philosophies by directly lobbying and recruiting professors and instructors at the post-secondary level. These lobby groups are very sophisticated, PR savvy and well-financed – they know how
to exploit the ignorance gap. The ag industry just can’t compete with those deviously clever groups.
Readers need to understand that producers and the ag industry are trying to advocate fairly and tell the truth about their industry and food production – but that’s not how our opponents operate. The communication professionals running the anti- agriculture campaigns are only interested in meeting their fundraising campaign budgets. That’s what they are paid to do, and if that means twisting and perverting the truth about agriculture and food to fool-gullible citizens to persuade them to donate to their causes, so be it – all is fair in the PR war for donations.
What has become an additional antagonist in the rural/urban gap up here is the active role of the Canadian federal government in fomenting the divide. For decades, prevailing Liberal governments practiced benign neglect toward the ag sector – in retrospect, that was fortunate. However, for the past seven years under the Trudeau regime, the Canadian government has embarked on perhaps the most progressive Liberal climate change policy on the planet. Moreover, it is being pursued with religious conviction and targets specific economic sectors and regions of the country.
As you might suspect, the agriculture and energy industries are the federal government’s targets, with both sectors located mainly in rural western Canada, an area that traditionally does not vote Liberal. I cite this political reality because it contributes considerably to Canada’s urban/agriculture divide. I expect American readers see a similar situation in their country with urban, progressive Democrats targeting rural Republican areas of the United States. It seems those of us in agriculture on both sides of the border have to endure similar political burdens. However, as much as we lament our predicament, what can be done to bridge the gap at least a little bit?
Regretfully not much, if past activity is any indication. Myriad agriculture lobby groups have spent millions trying to spin positive images of agriculture and rural society to a naïve urban society. It might have helped bridge the gap a bit, but I would suggest the anti-agriculture lobby industry continues to occupy the moral high ground through its dominating influence in the urban media, academia and now government. Most of those folks in the latter two sectors also went to secondary institutions with now senior bureaucrats in governments everywhere. Well, you get the picture.
Changing to more conservative governments somewhat slows the progressive process, but changing urban perspectives is a very long cultural process, and the ag industry is too far behind. As bleak as that sounds, it gets worse; I would suggest that what will change urban folks’ perspectives about agriculture will be real food shortages and even starvation. If that were to happen, I think our well-fed urban society would suddenly have a much more positive perspective of the role of agriculture in their lives.