The lengths to which the Pallister government is going to enable the massive expansion of Manitoba’s hog industry. and wide-open exploitation of our resources, 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. But now, what were once suspicions (or prophetic warnings from citizens’ groups like Hogwatch), are now an ugly reality. They expose this government’ naked contempt for the democratic rights of rural Manitobans who have the audacity to resist this misguided expansion.
A blue-ribbon panel of government appointees called the Municipal Board (including at least one prominent Tory ex-politician and two financial contributors to the PC Party), will soon scrap a ruling by the Municipality of Grassland, in the southwest.
The local, duly-elected Grassland council there voted decisively earlier this year to reject a massive complex of hog barns proposed by HyLife Foods near the Village of Elgin. The Board, I predict, will overturn that decision. And there will be no appeal. While it has not formally ruled on this yet, given its past performance, which I’ll explain later, there's little doubt what lies ahead.
The local Council there 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.
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!
Then there are those among us who feel strongly about all of this, yet struggle every day to have our voices heard. John Fefchak of Virden is a case in point. John is a veteran of the Canadian military and long-time critic of the factory-farming style of pork production. He sees the government’s almost messianic drive to be both a regulator and promoter of 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 this 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 Municipality of Rosser, near Winnipeg, rejected a bid for a gravel mine (euphemistically called a limestone aggregate quarry) late last year. Then, the politically well-connected owner of the construction company proposing the mine (who made a substantial campaign contribution to the Conservative Party of Manitoba last year), appealed.The Municipal Board, surprise, surprise, granted the appeal and overturned the council’s ruling. So the mine, er, quarry, will go ahead with its attendant dust, noise and disruption for the good people of the little village of Lillyfield.
I, too know first hand, of the consequences of gravel-mining. A big one near my home, in the picturesque Birdtail Valley, supplied raw product for a major roadbuilding project to the south of here last year. Convoys of big trucks rumbled past my front window in a seniors' complex for months, 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 them to?
It's encouraging that the Opposition has now taken up this issue. But I also hope they look beyond this, not as just a bit of political theatre, but an opportunity to start talking seriously about the way we live on this planet - the way we produce our food, extract our resources and exercise our precious democratic rights, too.
Shoal Lake, Manitoba