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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.


8 comments to The anger in tobacco country is palpable towards the Conservatives

  • It will take more than Martha Dennis to kick Dave Mackenzies’ arse outta Oxford.
    He’s flush with cash.(ok…perhaps he wasn’t entitled to it but what else is new???)and he has a ready made army of right wing fundies running around doing the work replete with a strong police backing across the region.
    Nope…save your money…it’ll help pay that carbon tax.That’s what I’m doing next election..staying home to save the gas.

  • burpnrun

    Well, I live in S.W. Ontario, next to Tillsonburg, and I can verify that no one gives a damn about the tobacco farmers here. Everone here knows they had tremendous breaks during the good times, and are just trying to hold both the provincial and federal governments (i.e., the taxpayers, you and me) to ransom.

    It isn’t as if their situation wasn’t foreseen! Besides, the Aylmer tobacco complex has been closed for two years now, and is up for sale.

    In small S.W. towns, where ordinary salary-workers live and are getting hit hard by manufacturing slowdowns in North America, no one has sympathy for those “poor tobacco farmers” sitting on one-half to three million dollars of real estate, who can easily change crops in a moment like others have.

    Sorry guys, the easy-living times have passed, and there’s less need for non-Canadian (usually Mexican) labourers to do the tobacco crops. So what! Get a life. Toronto do-gooders too.

  • slg

    Let me guess – Harper will come out with some surprise $$$’s or something to save her a*s.

  • H-N Electoral District stops just outside of T’burg. Simcoe and Dunnville are the “big” cities here. Port Dover is the fastest growing little town and is predicted to overtake Simcoe within 10 years, or so. Norfolk is tobacco country while the clay in Haldimand is more suited to corn.

    The tobacco issue is an important local issue but it’s become smaller and smaller as more tobacco farmers got out of the industry. Many locals see the tobacco farmers as wealthy and, indeed, many are. Of the 1300 tobacco framers who would be covered by the proposed buyout, about 150-200 are in dire straits. These guys are quite vocal and know how to use the press vis-a-vis marching into Hoskins’ headquarters and buying LPC memberships. That was a good PR windfall for Hoskins. Kudos, sez I.

    Our Green Party riding association is loaded with former Liberals, btw. Too bad the newspaper wasn’t around when they bought GPC memberships en masse after Hoskins nomination. 😉


  • Jennifer:

    Pass that suggestion on to some of the pesticide companies – or the natural products industry.

    Jimbobby: I was also thinking of the Tillsonburg News and the Independent. Tillsonburg serves both the Oxford and H/N ridings. I believe Tillsonburg is IN the H/N riding for federal elections, even though its part of Oxford County.

  • Whooee! Well Scotty, Finley’s toast here in Haldimand-Norfolk. You got that right, no two ways. But Eric Hoskins ain’t exactly a shoo-in. Eric is a fine human being and a great humanitarian. Many in H-N see him as Dion’s parachute candidate: an Ottawa insider with few ties to the riding.

    Hoskins has not actually resided in the area since he went off to university a coupla decades ago. He’s made at least one big gaffe on the tobacco issue when he suggested tobacco farmers switch to ginseng. That would have been a not bad idea 25 years ago before a whole lot of tobacco farmers did switch and a glut on the market killed the golden goose. Ginseng costs $20,000 an acre to plant and you can’t get a crop for the first 3 years, minimum. The near-bankrupot tobacco farmers can’t use that advice. Hoskins was upbraided in the local press on that one.

    But (couldn’t you have guessed?) we do havbe a terrific Green Party candidate running here. He was recently elected to a second term as president of the Norfolk Federation of Agriculture and he knows more about tobacco and farming, in general, than Eric can get in a crash course.

    About the biggest newspaper in the riding is the Simcoe Reformer. When Frank Nightingale announced he was running for the Green nomination, they predicted a tight race. And it won’t include Diane anywhere near the finish line.


  • Joseph

    Excellent post! Valid points and expressed extremely well. Hope someone is listening who can influence the campaigns in these ridings

  • Has anyone considered the fact that tobacco makes an excellent natural pesticide?

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