Thursday, January 31, 2013
Quebec farming: a brief psychohistory
Settlers came with their dreams of harvesting fields of golden wheat, lettuce and other tasty things.
But from the first jab of the shovel they realized that Quebec's soil was laden with rocks, stones, pebbles and boulders.
Farmers put in backbreaking work in an effort to yank rocks out of the skanky ground, a punishing battle against the Canadian Shield.
Combined with a short-growing season, Quebec farmers realized that regardless how determined they were, their farms would never get 'em rich, unlike many other countries where farming has always been relatively easy.
Lionel Groulx came along and exhorted his Catholic faithful to learn to love the soil.
That was a tall order considering that best-known descriptions of Quebec are: Quelques arpentes de neige... mon pays ce n est pas un pays, c'est l'hiver.*
Quebec has farms on about three percent of its surface but a lot of that isn't crops, it's used for cows and pigs and maple trees for syrup.
(Pork farms were pretty massive here until about 2000 but have fallen into big-time decline probably because they smell terrible, apple farms are also falling fast according to the stats.)
So these farmers, betrayed by false promise of farms, came to the city - giving us a higher rate of urbanization than other places - but they found that the good jobs were taken by anglos and that they'd have to battle against crafty immigrants with prior old-country experience in retail and management.
And nationalism, while strong, always lacked that final oomph. That's because love-of-the soil is a necessary component of true patriotism.
Quebec could never really be sure to have an independent food supply.
But the government gives out farm subsidies at a very generous rate nonetheless.
There has been much said about how Quebec has a knife-to-the-throat of Canada, which has earned the province about $7 billion in annual transfer payments from Alberta, which goes far to subsidize the province's annual $30 billion budget (half of which goes to health care).
Well the Union des Producteur Agricole wields the same knife to the throat of our provincial representatives.
A former MNA once described sitting in his office one day around 1990, he looked out the window and saw an ending convoy driving towards the assembly. A few minutes later the halls of the national assembly were filled with farmers all of whom had come to talk politics with the MNAs.
Though Quebec's farmers might have been disappointed throughout the years, they've learned the skills required to survive, their massive lobby that knows exactly how to extract cash from Quebec.
*a few acres of snow, my country isn't a country, it's winter.