The Continental Divide

I was reading an article a few days ago about the likelihood that southern California was due for a major earthquake within the next few years.  The author devoted a paragraph to plate tectonics – the grindingly slow movements of the earth's crust that give us mountains, earthquakes and tsunamis.  It's fascinating stuff.  As one edge of a continental plate bulldozes into another, the other side is pulling away from yet another plate – rifts and collisions occurring simultaneously.

It must have been one of those rare periods of reflection, because it occurred to me that something similar is taking place within this country between the rural areas and the urban centers: widening rifts that must surely result in collisions, a difference of mindset and values that becomes more evident and irritating with the presentation and passage of each government bill.  I'm not just talking about the understandable wouldn't-know-his-arse-from-an ayrshire lack of awareness that is expected from city folk, but something much more worrisome.  It's contemptuous ignorance, steered by the arrogant notion that whatever is good for our urban centers must surely be good for the rest of us.  At its best it is sneering condescension; at its worst it manifests itself as the theft of our property.

We (Landowners) got an early taste of it at a press conference we attended in March of 2005 at Queen's Park.  As Landowner President Randy Hillier spoke knowledgably and passionately about the various regulatory indignities that had been visited upon rural residents, I couldn't help but notice four members of Toronto's press corps laughin' and scratchin' in the bleachers like unruly school kids - simple rudeness, but children have no exclusive monopoly on the right to be impolite.  Then it was time for questions and one of the members of the simpering quartet threw this one at us: “What do you have against homosexuals?” 

After twenty minutes of reasons why the tractor protest was going to take place the following day, this was the best that Fleet Street could muster. We knew where the question was coming from – the Landowner declaration accused our governments of appeasing special interest groups while ignoring rural Canada - and Hillier handled it adroitly, but we had a funny feeling that our rural problems would be lucky to get honourable mention in next day's news, that the headlines were preordained.  And we had that right; depending on which newspaper they picked up the following morning, readers would learn that they were about to be invaded by militant farmers or homophobic hillbillies.    It's small wonder that the average urbanite doesn't have a clue or care about his country compatriot.

Even the National Post (its Asper roots showing)couldn't suppress its urban-centric bias and delivered an editorial chastising the lot of us for our lack of consideration – imagine if our tractors had caused a shopkeeper to be twenty minutes late opening!   Expressions of support and sympathy, when they do come from our cities, are, as my brother says, “A mile wide and a millimeter deep” - the mixing of metric and imperial somehow nicely conveying the dichotomy of rural tradition versus urban transition. 

Over the last thirty years or so our four major urban centers- Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa and Toronto - have undergone (perhaps suffered would be the better word) a disfiguring metamorphosis because of unchecked social forces (such as open-door immigration policies) and economic prosperity.  As their populations exploded, the confines of boundaries and the constraints of existing live-and let-live understandings with their rural cousins simply wouldn't do anymore. A fix was needed and the solution to all levels of government was obvious: we can all benefit at the expense of rural Canada.  The provincial and federal governments were dependant upon the vote-rich urban centers for their survival, so, if Queens Park and Parliament Hill delivered the products the cities wanted – water, land for garbage dumps, recreation and expansion, and mineral aggregates - then the quid pro quo: votes, was a foregone conclusion.  And it worked the other way around: the cities implicitly understood that failure to support the federal or provincial causes would not be to their benefit.  Lucifer had shook hands with the Devil and agreed to divide the spoils of rural Canada.

It started with gun control.  The mayors and their police chiefs applauded the nonsense, knowing full well that registering hunting guns would have about the same effect on violent crime as candle-light vigils have on eradicating the Taliban.  And who really cared if rural Canada was against it, after all, there's more of us than them. 

It continues.  In 2005 McGuinty's government passed the odious (perhaps odoriferous) Provincial Policy Statement on Land Use, a cynical piece of legislation that compels all municipalities, as their official plans come up for renewal, to adhere to the dictates of the “policy”.  Would you like a few gems?  Development – defined as doing anything to your land – will be discouraged in rural areas and “steered” towards settlement areas.  Want to know what a settlement area is?  It's an area on the outskirts of town.  It gets worse.  Development (remember the definition now) will be prohibited in Prime Agricultural Areas.  Well, what's the big deal you say?  With few exceptions you never could build on prime agricultural land.  Let me enlighten you. Prime Agricultural Land means soil classifications 1 – 4; Prime Agricultural Area means soil classes 1 – 7.  You know that forty acres of useless land along the side-road that you thought that you might sell some day as building lots?  Forget it, it's class six soil. Oh yes, another thing, or two, or ten.  Your gravel pits, low-lying areas and hardwood bush.  Did you think for a minute that those features are actually yours?  So sorry.  You were actually holding these lands in trust for your municipal government - they have already acquired them - and you will keep paying property taxes on land that they control for their own selfish purposes. Read and weep.

And it's going to get worse.  The Clean Water Act will endow municipal governments with powers of entry, search, seizure and expropriation that students of Lenin would appreciate: entry onto your property at any time without grounds or suspicion that anything is amiss; the power to acquire land by expropriation or by other means. And, thou shall not undertake any activities that might be detrimental to a clean water source, within a distance from the source that increases as the years go by.

You have two choices.  If you choose to do nothing, years from now you may enjoy the bitter pleasure of what the Germans call schadenfreude.  Simply put, it is enjoying someone's (perhaps a former antagonist) discomfort and misfortune.  As you sit in your old age, dispossessed of property and dignity, you might find some small comfort in the knowledge that your former tormentors – urban voters – are suffering crime, disease and property devaluation.

The other route is the harder row to hoe – it demands balls, backbone and the willingness to overcome gravity.  You will have to get your arse up off that chair and do something.  Write your MPs and tell them that you and your family are not going to vote for them if they oppose the closure of the firearms registry.  And your MPPs need to know that The Provincial Policy Statement on Land Use is a disaster, and that your support is contingent upon them changing the legislation to your benefit.  You also have to tell them that the Clean Water Act, if it is passed in its present form, would endorse intrusions into life, liberty and security of persons and their property that would be inconsistent with any contemporary notion of what constitutes a free and democratic society. 

And don't give me that “what's the use” crap.  Throw that at me and I'm going to call you lazy, or cowardly.   The Landowners are getting things accomplished.  You can shoot nuisance deer now…thanks to the Landowners standing up.  You can have church suppers with home-cooked food…thanks to the Landowners exposing stupid legislation for what it was.  You will be able to sell pickles and jams at farmer's markets…thanks to the Landowners.  And finally, you have a federal government that is committed to including property rights in our Constitution…and you know who to thank for that. Randy Hillier said it best: "You can stand up and say "no" to them now, or you can lie low in the grass until they come along with their long noses and sniff you out." I'm all for standing.

Jamie Macmaster

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