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The anger in tobacco country is palpable towards the Conservatives

I’ve been seeing that anger in a lot of the local newspapers around here in the past month or 2, but it’s drawn enough attention to make it into today’s Toronto Star in an article entitled “Despair and anger in tobacco country”. This isn’t just about the tobacco farmers either being angry at the Cons. and Diane Finley – many in Caledonia, the site of the native protests – blame her and the Cons. for failing to resolve the issue:

For tobacco growers in southwestern Ontario, hope has turned to despair. Banks are foreclosing, marriages are dissolving and some growers have even taken their lives..What the tobacco farmers and the Caledonia residents have in common is anger, much of it directed toward their Haldimand-Norfolk MP – Conservative Diane Finley, immigration minister in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet. Caledonia residents feel Finley has abandoned them, while tobacco growers accuse her of failing to live up to her many promises to bring in an aid package that would allow them to turn to other crops or another way of life.

That anger is potentially deadly to Finley’s chances for re-election here:

“When she runs again, I am going to have a sign on my lawn that says `Never ever vote for this woman again.’ She’s useless. She’s done. She will never get back in here,” said Reid, 65, who blames having to take medication for elevated blood pressure on the two-year-old dispute.. His wife, Marg, 47, guessed that Finley’s chances of being re-elected are “nil.” About 150 farmers made a very public statement in March when they gathered outside Finley’s Simcoe office to express outrage over the absence of a buyout program. After ripping up their Conservative membership cards and a Finley lawn sign, they marched to the office of Dr. Eric Hoskins, the Liberal candidate, to fill out memberships for the federal Liberal party.”I have voted Conservative my whole (adult) life … but I feel very much that I have been led down the garden path,” Brian Baswick, 53, a tobacco farmer from the Delhi area… Dave Brown and his wife Dana live on the west side of the (Caledonia) development…”There are so many times when I sat here waiting for (Finley) to call me and the calls just never came. She does not deserve the position she’s in. She will absolutely not win the (next election). I will make sure of that,” said Brown..

And what has Finley offered in her defense? Nothing but excuses and threats:

The Toronto Star requested an interview with Finley but a spokesperson on her behalf said issues involving agriculture and native affairs were not her responsibility. “The minister is only the local MP and not the lead on either file,” wrote spokesperson Timothy Veil…Fearing for her own safety, she refused to attend a meeting in Delhi late last month with more than 1,000 tobacco farmers. But she did send a letter warning the farmers that if they launched a lawsuit against the federal government that “everything we are working on stops. Plain and simple.” She also chastised the farmers for their “negative messaging,” which she said was only jeopardizing a final exit plan, one which could entail Ottawa buying their tobacco quota

She chickened out of talking to her own constituents, not because she feared for her life, but because she knew she’d get booed off the stage if she showed up, and she didn’t want any more bad publicity.  To top it off, she then tried to intimidate the farmers into silence.  These are farmers that have seen their farms foreclosed, themselves forced into bankruptcy, and they’re supposed to take this lying down?

Between this and Caledonia, I think this line in the paper is the most apt to describe Finley’s plight:

When Finley first entered politics – she defeated former agriculture minister Bob Speller in the June 2004 election that returned Paul Martin’s Liberals with a minority – she often accused the government of over-promising and under-delivering. Those words are coming back to haunt her.

I believe that Norfolk is one rural riding you will see switch back to the Liberals when the election is finally called. I don’t think even if by some chance a buyout is finally agreed to, that the farmers will forgive Finley for her perceived inaction and lack of empathy for the farming community. Caledonia and area residents certainly won’t over her perceived inaction on the native standoff.  I think this is one riding where local issues will far overshadow national ones.

That could also be the case in Oxford, if it were brought up more. I also think that this is a wedge issue that the Liberal Candidate in Oxford, Martha Dennis, could and should  be using more against Conservative MP Dave Mackenzie, as there are a fair number of tobacco farmers in this riding as well. She may very well be doing so in her campaigning, but I’ve seen nothing in the local papers around here from her attacking Mackenzie’s failure to help get a buyout package for the tobacco farmers in his riding. I believe she needs to get more press exposure for herself on this issue and pressure Mr Mackenzie on this issue.

You should understand that Oxford County is a very blue riding and only seems to vote Liberal when the Liberals do Chretien-style landslides in the province.  I’m not sure this issue would tip this riding to the Liberals, but it sure would make Mackenzie feel a tad uncomfortable having to defend to farmers why he’s been no better then Finley at securing a buyout compensation package for tobacco farmers to help them turn to alternate crops and preserve their way of life and income.

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