Saturday, March 9, 2013

Small Flockers go to Ottawa

My dear wife had to go to Ottawa this week for a conference.  Fortunately, she agreed to give me a lift to Ottawa.  I wanted to go speak to the MP's, Chicken Farmers of Canada ("CFC"), and anybody else who would listen to our cause.

Calling Chicken Farmers of Canada
On the way to Ottawa, we called Chicken Farmers of Canada ("CFC").  CFC was very nice on the phone.  They asked who was calling.  After we introduced ourselves, you could here some clicking in the background.  CFC explained that we were being checked out on the Internet to make sure we weren't animal rights activists.  I asked for an appointment to learn about Canada's supply management system for chicken, and ask some questions.  They didn't want to be bothered by us, suggesting we speak with CFO.  I explained we had done that already, and were interested in the Canada-wide chicken management systems.  I was eventually switched to Michael Dungate, Executive Director of CFC.

Mr. Dungate explained that he was trying to finish his preparations for a whirl-wind Canada-wide tour of the chicken Marketing Board meetings next week, and was too busy to speak with me.  He suggested I send a letter with my questions, which I agreed to do.  The resulting letter to CFC is posted here.

Meeting Request with Hon. Minister Ritz, Minister of Ag & Ag.-Foods
The next day, I wrote a letter to Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Honorable Gerald Ritz, requesting a brief meeting to deliver our Grievances and Pleas for Relief.

Ideas To Guide Us
I returned numerous phone calls and emails from farmers and others who had been reading the Blog. Fortunately, I'm gaining many advisors on where this Small Flocker campaign needs to go next, and things to watch out for.  If you have some ideas you are willing to share, either in public or private, I'd appreciate hearing from you.

Getting Into Parliament
Next, it was time for Mr. Black to approach Parliament. I walked up the main walkway on Capital Hill, where there was a half dozen protesters with their signs.  I considered joining them, but pressed on.  I went up to the main entrance, the same one used by the Queen in her Landau carriage when she comes to Parliament.  They had a sign indicating that door is only for the staff, so I next tried the door at the side of the House of Commons building.

An RCMP Officer questioned me as to my intent as I approached the side entrance.  I explained that I wanted to see my MP.  The Mountie was standing by the door, but had no mount in sight.  The RCMP Officer quickly asked, "Do you have an appointment?"

"Not yet", I said.

The RCMP smile quickly disappeared.

He said, "You'll have to go in by the tour group entrance, go through security, then go to the security desk and ask to call your MP's office.  You know,... the MP's are busy working.  They don't have time to be interrupted by people dropping by unannounced."

"Oh......", I said, trying to sound surprised but submissive.  I thanked him for his free advice, then pushed on with determination and a quivering lip.

MP Carol Hughes, NDP
Finally inside Parliament, I called for MP Carol Hughes, NDP for Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing.  Her staff answered, took my info, and informed me it would soon be Question Period, and their boss would be busy with that important duty for the rest of the day.

When I hung up the phone, I asked if the public gallery was available to see Question Period.

"Do you have a reservation?", the two burly, yet smiling security guards asked.

"No, I don't", was my whimpered reply.

"Oh....", they said.  "In that case, you'll have to go down that hallway, past security, upstairs, through security, then wait in line.  You may not get a seat, but you can try."

I did as I was ordered.

Public Gallery at Question Period
When I lined up for the pubic gallery, I was in the line just in front of three representatives from the Canadian Food Grains Bank.  They had reservations, evidenced by a faint blue card, tightly clutched.  We had a very nice conversation as we waited. I learned that it was the Bank's 30th anniversary.  I secretly slipped them a copy of my Petition for helping Small Flock Poultry Farmers.

The Sergeant-At-Arms went by with his long silver sword and day coat, then the line started to move forward.  Through another security checkpoint we all went.  We had to leave behind our coats, hats, books, pens, paper, and cell phones with the 6 guards; lest we be tempted to throw them at the MP's.

I got a seat in the gallery!  Everybody else did too.  The acoustics inside the Chamber are extremely poor.  Fortunately, every seat is equipped with a small speaker.  My speaker transmitted in French, even when the MP was speaking in English.  When Question Period was half over, I finally figured out how all the buttons on the sound system control panel worked, and got simulcast English, even when the MP switched back and forth between both Official Languages.

After scanning the floor of the House, I finally spotted my MP, Carol Hughes, for Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing.  A few minutes later, I received a tap on my shoulder, and my MP sat down in the gallery row in front of me.  Wow!  Was I surprised.

Arrangements were quickly made for us to meet downstairs after Question Period.  I was soon introduced to Camilla, an International Student from London England who is studying at University of Toronto.  Camilla was doing a two day job shadowing with my MP, to learn about the Canadian knock-off to the Mother of All Parliaments in London England.  We all marched around the corner with my MP Carol Hughes in the lead.  I noticed a respectful nod of the heads by all security personnel as we marched by.

NDP Caucus Meeting with Small Flockers
MP Malcolm Allen, NDP
Sitting down, we were soon joined by Mr. Malcolm Allen, NDP MP for Welland, and Agriculture Critic for the Loyal Opposition.  We all went over the Petition together, then our Grievances, and our Plea for Relief.  I disclosed my plan to get to see Hon. Gerry Ritz, Minister of Agriculture.  Malcolm informed me that Mr. Ritz was on a trade mission in Japan, so I changed my goal to meeting with one of the Minister's Policy Analysts.

Mr. Allen asked me if we supported Canada's Supply Management System.  I said, "Small Flock Poultry Farmers support Canada's Supply Management System as long as it is the most effective system for serving the needs of Canadians.  If the system has some problems, then we need to identify those problems and get them fixed, rather than denying that the problems exist."

Mr. Allen seemed satisfied with that answer.  He promised to review our documents, and make some inquiries,  He said we weren't the only ones with complaints against the chicken supply management system.  He informed me that the CAMI slaughter plant that was recently cut off from receiving Ontario chickens is in his riding.

"Most unfortunate, what is being done to them", I said.
MP Thomas Mulcair, NDP

Honorable Thomas Mulcair, Leader of the NDP walked by, and soon enough, I was introduced to him as well.

MP Libby Davies, NDP
MP Libby Davies, NDP was hosting a reception for her new Bill C-460: Sodium Reduction Strategy for Canada.  I was introduced to Libby, we had some interesting discussions about the Bill, and soon enough, I was invited to the reception so that we could continue the discussions.

At the reception, I also met with Ms. Janet Gray of CARP (Canadian Association of Retired Persons), who informed me that over 91% of CARP's members supported the Bill.

Bland, Salty Chicken
At the reception, I got to meet Dr. Andrew Pipe of the University of Ottawa, one of the supporters of the Bill.  Dr. Pipe informed me that most Canadians were eating more than twice the dietary salt recommended.  CBC conducted additional Canadian consumer market research which showed that processed chicken was even higher in salt content.  I found that interesting.  I eventually got an opportunity to share some data research I had conducted that showed 7.67 birds per 10,000 birds (ie. 0.0767%) of Ontario chickens were condemned at the slaughter plant by CFIA for ascites (ie. abdominal oedema).  Pushing the bird's growth too fast usually caused the malady, and I postulated that this might have something to do with producing a very bland tasting chicken (if some were unfit to eat and therefore condemned, perhaps the rest were bland due to excess fluid); so bland that it requires large amounts of salt for the chicken meat to be palatable.  Dr. Pipe seemed intrigued by my theory.

Like Cinderella, I had to quickly run after the reception, run down Parliament's steps, run past the numerous RCMP Officers who watched to see if somebody was chasing me.  I hoped to get to my car before rush hour terminated my parking privileges, and the towing began.  Fortunately, my fleet feet got me there with 2 minutes to spare.  My day at Parliament Hill came to an end.

Carol Hughes, MP for Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing and her staff were instrumental in the success of my visit to the Hill.  Thank-you Carol, and please thank your staff as well.

I two-finger typed into the wee hours to add a few more items to my questions for CFC, and emailed it off to them.

Will we ever Meet?
Next, I made a number of attempts to re-contact the office of the Minister of Agriculture, trying to get a brief meeting to deliver our Grievances and Plea for Relief.  No luck.

Home We Go
Friday AM, I sent off an email to my MP Carol Hughes, breaking the news that I was unsuccessful for this ultimate goal.  My ride was leaving at 8:00 AM Friday, but I still hadn't connected with anybody at the Minister's office.  While we were enroute home, the cell phone rang.  When I answered it, I was pleased to learn I was invited to meet with Ms Karla Barnes, a Policy Advisor for Minister Ritz.  I did a U-turn and headed back to Ottawa.

Ministry of Agriculture Meeting
Karla, Policy Advisor for the Minister and I met.  I gave her a copy of our Briefing Note, our Petition, our Complaints and Pleadings for Relief, our Complaint to CFO, our letter to Premier Wynne requesting changes to the Meat Regulations, and our letter to CFC.

We then reviewed the major points.  Canada is losing its farmers and its farming communities.  In the last 15 years, the number of farmers who are 35 years old and younger has dropped by 70%.  I said that the 300 bird limit in Ontario prevents us from reaching our $7,000 income requirement to become and stay an official farmer under Canadian Revenue Agency rules.  With an estimated 35,000 small flockers across Canada, we could quickly stem the tide of attrition that was decimating the farmer's ranks.

I showed Karla the proposed form that the small flock farmer could quickly fill in, providing the farm-gate customer with full disclosure, from egg to slaughter.  "You can't get this kind of info from the big guys in chicken (ie. quota farmers).  The small flockers want to provide full disclosure on how those birds were raised."

Karla listened carefully.  At one point, she said, "You seem to be primarily focused on Ontario.  Does your organization represent just Ontario farmers, or all of Canada?"

I responded, "Ontario is the most important right now, because that is where there is the greatest pain.  Once we have this Ontario solution starting to roll forward, we'll be able to broaden our gaze wider, for all of Canada."

Karla informed me that there was full separation between the Supply Management System and the Ministry, so they are unable to do anything on the Supply Management side.  I agreed, saying we only wanted to keep all stakeholders informed, so that is why I was sharing my letter to CFC.

Karla agreed to request CFIA to review our proposals for self-slaughtering and farm-gate sale of poultry.  I said that would be wonderful.

So that was my week in Ottawa.  Overall, I'd say it was successful in bringing attention to the small flockers and their issues.

Next, we have to get some action on our requests.

That is where the rest of you come in.  Stay tuned.

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