Landowners Fighting for Justice, Freedom

Thanks to Mayor Jim McDonell and Deputy Mayor John Warden of South Glengarry for their attendance and committed moral support, as well as Conservative MPs Guy Lauzon and Pierre Lemieux and Conservative MPP candidate Chris Savard for their supportive e-mails.

These active and prospective politicians have lent their support because they understand that this is not a pro-environment struggle. A review of my farm's environmental stewardship record would quickly put that to rest. My father was a conservation-tillage pioneer-one of the rare guys who took a welder to a planter and seed drill make them work in high-residue, no-till conditions long before you could go out and buy a machine to do the job. Our farm's managed woodlots, meadows, wetlands, grassed buffer strips and contoured drainage basins exist due to our conscientious awareness of the environment within and beyond the boundaries of our farm.

I'm a 35-year-old cash-crop farmer who has learned never learned to how to plow. Bare, exposed soil is subject to the erosive kinetic energies of wind and water, so we've adapted to a five-crop rotation and a once-in-five-year spring-tillage event. We apply manure once every five years in that rotation to maintain fertility elements, and have not applied phosphate or potash fertilizers (except periodic experiments) in the past quarter century. We also capitalize upon various integrated pest management techniques to reduce pesticide applications to a small fraction of what has been used in the past. My ongoing scientific study of symbiotic and mutualistic associations amongst crop plants and soil biota within an undisturbed agricultural soil ecosystem has inspired my career and challenged my intellect.

I say all this to forestall arguments that I might be something other than what I am-an environmentalist. More than 300 acres of our 800-acre farm can serve as wildlife habitat while it accumulates biomass for us to use or sell. Why would we buy, own and pay tax on land that offered no financial return?

We selectively cut diseased or fallen trees from our woodlot to fuel our high-efficiency two-stage woodchip furnace (to capitalize upon renewable energy) which is designed to limit deleterious emissions as we heat our homes and buildings, while we simultaneously manage the health of our woodlot ecosystem.

The reason for the May 8 demonstration is that control of my land's management is being ripped from my hands by our government. My ancestors left conditions like this (Scotland 200 years ago) to carve a new future, here in Canada. I still awe at the stones that they moved with brute strength fuelled by passion for freedom and ownership, to clear fields, build homes and to produce food and wealth through hard labour and dedicated industry. That spirit resides in my heart and it is what our soldiers have fought and died for in past and present wars.

The issue here is not about environmentalism. It is about freedom and justice. Anne-Marie Flanagan (MNR) said “If a certain area is deemed as a habitat, a farmer could, for example, create a habitat on a different section of the property.” So to put that in urbanese, if there is a public interest in your living room, but you really want to retain usage of your living room, we're flexible, we'll take your kitchen or bedroom instead.

As for Minister David Ramsey and “not...make it difficult for them to use their land,” I have a lifetime of experience with restrictions imposed by the MNR, and they have made it impossible to grow crops on nearly 200 acres of our land or use it for any other productive purpose. The consequential property devaluation of a 6,000 foot St. Lawrence River water frontage has destroyed my family's hard-earned financial equity. His much-touted $18 million stewardship fund (the term compensation is always assiduously avoided) wouldn't cover the opportunity cost between lots 10 through 20 on the first concession of Lancaster Township. Furthermore, I'm sure I heard that the associated bureaucracy will cost at least 10 times that amount (that information is more difficult to find).

If you think that it's a good idea to give land up to MNR management, consider the 30-meter buffer strip of our Point Mouillee waterfront, which was surveyed and confiscated in 1980. It is long gone because we were not allowed to protect it with stone-and still can't. If farmland erodes, it is evidence of a farmer's irresponsibility, but if the MNR/RRCA decides that land should erode, it's OK; after all, it's not really their waterfront, is it? When you get something at no cost, what does it matter?

If the public wants our land, conversation agencies can buy it or rent it, based on its true and intrinsic value, which is a function of unobstructed land-use opportunity. We have always been, and are still quite willing to cooperate to achieve sensible environmental goals. Landowners simply refuse to carry the billion-dollar cost of society's environmental whims while the extent of an urban citizen's consideration of the environment involves buying a hybrid car rather than an SUV!

Robbing us of our land's utility and value is undeniably wrong. Our land is our RSP, pension, or whatever other people do to secure and grow their savings, and its fiduciary value is equity that we've been conscientiously investing in for generations. We thought for a while that if we co-operated and gave conservation agencies what they wanted they would champion our efforts and leave us alone. It doesn't work that way. Allowing land to be taken without significant resistance only inspires them to take it all. Pay attention everyone. You may not feel that this affects you, but carefully consider Hosea's warning of “the whirlwind.”

Please think about what really matters. Do you prefer a fat bureaucracy that sucks tax dollars from hardworking people and diminishes our nation's ability to generate GDP, or will you support people like me, who work tirelessly to grow crops, produce food and generate economic opportunity for the transportation, industrial, commercial, retail, export, energy, etc. industries? I am an environmental steward and a productive individual and I need protection through “property rights” legislation.

Please visit Buy My Waterfront for more information about our farm and these issues.

Shawn McRae is president of McRae Farms Ltd. and

Glengarry Landowners Association.

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