The Government of Manitoba robs its rural citizens of their local autonomy to serve its political friends and big business. (Opinion)
by Larry Powell
The lengths to which the Pallister government is going to enable the unfettered exploitation of Manitoba's resources and massive expansion of its hog industry, should now be clear for all to see. For the past few years, it’s been rolling out, at significant taxpayer expense, the truly draconian measures it’s now taking, to make this happen.
While the writing has been on the wall, only now are the worst fears being realized. They expose this government’ naked contempt for the democratic rights of rural Manitobans who have the audacity to point out that these goals are misguided - that the emperor has no clothes.
Late last year, the Municipality of Rosser, near Winnipeg, rejected a bid for a gravel mine (euphemistically called a limestone aggregate quarry). The politically well-connected owner of the construction company proposing the mine (who made a substantial contribution to the Conservative Party of Manitoba last year), appealed. Then, along comes a newly-minted creation of the Pallister Conservatives, a "blue-ribbon panel," as it were, called the Municipal Board, and overturns the council’s decision. Anointed with quasi-judicial power and peopled with several of the "party faithful," it can, in the words of one savvy observer, "relieve local councils of their administrative burdens." And, it did. It overturned council's rejection and, surprise, surprise, ruled for the proponent!
So the mine, er, quarry, will now go ahead. There is no appeal.
So I guess the good people of the little, nearby community of Lillyfield, will just have to grin and bear it.
Believe me, I know a thing or two about gravel-mines. A big one near my home, in the picturesque Birdtail Valley (above), supplied raw product for a major roadbuilding project to the south of here last year.
Convoys of big dump-trucks rumbled past my front window in a seniors' complex for months (above), from morning ’til night, carrying their loads - hundreds of round trips a day to the site.
Never mind that diesel fumes are a major air pollutant which cause lung cancer; Or that the United Nations has long warned the construction industry to curb its greenhouse gas emissions "yesterday" if we are to make any dent in the climate crisis.
Would the cancellation of that single project have turned this global calamity around? Of course not.
But will a broader, worse-case climate scenario be in the cards if every community on Earth barges ahead as this government obviously wants us to? Absolutely!
The absence of "eco-wisdom" these events reveal on the part of our lawmakers, is breathtaking.
And Bill 19, the same legislation which tramples local autonomy (or, in the fertile mind of government, reduces red tape), has resulted in another outrage in another part of the province.
|The HyLife killing plant in Neepawa, the largest pork processor in Canada. A corporate monolith based in Thailand with tentacles reaching into many corners of the world's food business, now owns controlling interest. A PinP photo.|
The local, duly-elected Council in the RM of Grassland, near Brandon, has also voted decisively to reject another proposed project - this time a massive complex of hog barns proposed by HyLife Foods (above) near the Village of Elgin.
And surely, only the naive now believe the Municipal Board will rule any way other than it did in Rosser.
The Grassland Council simply doesn’t believe the tax revenue from the project will cover the cost of servicing it. And residents fear the increased traffic will bring dust and noise, disrupting their quiet, rural lifestyles.
They also worry about their water supply. That’s because the new complex will suck more than 100 thousand litres of water each and every day from the local aquifer. Twenty-four thousand pigs will be crowded into several large buildings.
That’s about thirty times the human population of my own little town of Shoal Lake. And each pig produces several times the waste of one person. Yet even here we struggle to keep nutrients from our sewage lagoon - which often exceed recommended levels - from entering the lake.
These likely help feed the growth of toxic algae which have been clogging up the lake water for years, tangling outboard motors and surely contributing to major fish-kills like the one we had here last year (above).
It's been common knowledge for some time that, wherever humans or pigs are gathered together, deteriorating water quality soon follows. So, if our small town can feel such an impact, imagine the potential for harm there!
And, as a new report from the World Wildlife Fund reveals: "The overall (pollution) threat in the Assiniboine-Red watershed and each of its four sub-watersheds (where the new barns will be built) is (already) “very high.” It blames much of this on "agricultural runoff!"
Dissenting voices are systematically ignored.
In the spring of 2018 - the citizens' group, Hogwatch Manitoba -
emblazened this headline across its website.
"BILL 19 THREATENS LOCAL CONTROL FOR RURAL COMMUNITIES."
Here is Hogwatch's prophetic, cautionary tale, word for word, as it appeared, two-&-a-half years ago.
"Bill 19 will silence the public. It will allow municipal leaders to get rid of conditional use hearings and Provincial Technical Reviews for factory hog barns. If local politicians take this route, the Province will have the only and final say on where hog factories can be built. The Government of Manitoba is and has been both a promoter and regulator of the hog industry. Bill 19 is the latest move to promote and de-regulate hog industry expansion. Why is Provincial control a problem? If conditional use disappears, local councils and rural people will not have any say in how factory hog operations perform. Municipalities will have no means of monitoring, enforcing conditions, and protecting local people and the environment from hog operations."
John Fefchak of Virden is another example of a voice that needs to be listened to, but is not. John is a veteran of the Canadian military and long-time critic of his province's factory-farming style of pork production. He sees the government’s almost messianic drive to be both a regulator of, and cheerleader for the industry, as an attack on the democratic freedoms he did his part to win in the deadly conflicts of the past. Yet, his frequent comments to the news media, including the farm press, are often censored.
And my local Shoal Lake newspaper, the Crossroads, is refusing to print this story which I put in the form of a letter-to-the-editor. The publisher, Ryan Nesbitt, claims it is "not local enough." He has also refused other letters I have submitted, about climate change, for the same reason.
It's encouraging that the Opposition is now taking up this issue. But I do hope it won't roll out as just another bit of political theatre. We need a profound public discourse on the very ways we develop our resources, produce our food, and exercise and protect our precious democratic rights, too. Is it all working? Or does it need to change? We all need to think about these things when the next election comes around.