If you want to know what the so-called “freedom” convoy’s next act will look like, cast your eyes to the Netherlands.
Over the last week, Dutch farmers have ratcheted up their protests against the European Union’s plan to halve emissions from livestock producers by 2030. They’ve dumped manure and set hay on fire on highways to draw attention to legislation they say will put thousands of farmers out of business for good, and they’ve won the backing of far-right, anti-climate politicians like Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders and Donald Trump.
“Conspiracy theorists have also painted the protests as an anti-establishment, anti-migration movement, arguing the government has laid out anti-democratic restrictions on individual freedoms,” Politico’s Camille Gijs writes. Sound familiar?
In fairness, the Dutch government hasn’t exactly helped itself here. In a statement about its policy, the government said livestock farmers had three choices: “Becoming more sustainable, relocating or ending their business.” That’s the sort of language that’s kindling for conspiracy theories about climate policy and its impact on the average citizen, and it’s threatening to set Europe ablaze right now.
Canada’s agricultural emissions targets aren’t as aggressive as those in the Netherlands, and it’s hard to imagine our federal government saying anything remotely as cavalier about the future of its farmers. Even so, the goal to cut greenhouse gas emissions from fertilizer 30 per cent by 2030 has still drawn the ire of Canada’s farmers and their political proxies.
“If you push farmers against the wall with no wiggle room, I don’t know where this will end up,” Gunter Jochum, president of the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association, told Bloomberg. “Just look at what’s happening in Europe, in the Netherlands. They’ve had enough of it.”
Here in Canada, the battle lines are being drawn on this issue. On the one hand, you have climate activists quite rightly pointing out fertilizer’s role in increasing nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas approximately 300 times as effective at trapping heat as carbon dioxide. On the other, you have farmers quite rightly underscoring its role in increasing crop yields and productivity. In the middle sits a federal government that seems determined to meet its climate targets without stepping on any prominent toes.
One of those belongs to Fertilizer Canada, an organization whose members are quite literally in the business of selling more fertilizer. It came out swinging against the federal government’s plan last year with a report suggesting that if Canada followed in Europe’s footsteps, it could cost farmers as much as $48.4 billion over the next eight years due to lower crop yields.
But as Canada’s National Observer’s Marc Fawcett-Atkinson pointed out in July, that was never actually on the table. Fertilizer Canada’s report “was based on the premise Canada would follow the EU’s lead and require a blanket reduction in fertilizer use,” he wrote. “Except the government had never said such a thing.”
Instead, the federal government wants to see a reduction in emissions from fertilizers, and there are farmers — like Darrin Qualman, the director of climate policy for the National Farmers’ Union — who believe that could actually help farmers reduce costs and improve profit margins.
Opinion: Time will tell whether they get around to dumping actual manure onto major highways in protest, or whether we’ll merely have to contend with the metaphorical version being thrown at our federal government, writes columnist @maxfawcett.
As a 2022 report from Farmers for Climate Solutions showed, there are costs associated with inaction as well. Climate objectives are being baked into the purchasing decisions of companies that buy Canada’s agricultural exports, and being a higher-emitting producer will quickly become a competitive disadvantage. “Other countries already invest more on a per-acre basis in agri-environmental programs,” the FCS report said, “and without new support in the next APF [agricultural policy framework], we risk losing our competitive edge in the clean economy of the 21st century.”
There is a legitimate and important conversation to be had here about the best way — and, crucially, the least costly way — for Canada’s farmers to reduce their emissions. The appeals being made by farmers for a temporary reprieve from Canadian tariffs imposed on Russian fertilizer imports — that have added to the inflationary pressures being felt by farmers — deserve a proper and prompt hearing.
But that can’t happen when politics take precedence over policy, and sucks all the oxygen out of the room in the process. And right now, the Trudeau Liberals are suffocating on this issue. The fact they don’t have a single MP in any of Alberta or Saskatchewan’s agricultural communities surely doesn’t help. Neither does the constant drumbeat of fear and loathing directed at the federal government and Justin Trudeau from the right-wing politicians and pundits who are popular in these communities.
In a recent tweet, UCP leadership race front-runner Danielle Smith described the federal climate plan and its impact on the agricultural sector as a “direct attack on Alberta farmers,” while The Line’s co-founders Jen Gerson and Matt Gurney asked “how are pious climate-change goals going to look if they have to be measured against piles of emaciated bodies in the developing world? Because that’s the danger.”
It’s one that you can be sure the convoy and its familiar cast of local leaders and political enablers will be all too happy to point out in the weeks and months to come. Time will tell whether they get around to dumping actual manure onto major highways in protest, or whether we’ll merely have to contend with the metaphorical version being thrown at our federal government.