By Jeff Carter
The western reaches of Essex County are unfamiliar territory to many Ontarians. Most people travelling through on the way to Windsor or the US take the 401, Canada’s busiest highway.
They are likely to see corn and soybean fields during the growing season on the flat terrain and perhaps the odd field of wheat. Wind turbines too.
I prefer less travelled ways, dropping south from the highway, perhaps finding my way to the Town of Essex and then heading due west. There’s a noticeable change in the farmland here. Heavy clay gives way to better ground. You can tell by the farms. The corn grows taller and there’s a livestock component as well.
Reach the Detroit River and there’s only two choices, apart from a swim or turning about. Head north toward the Ambassador Bridge and Detroit or make a hard left for historic Amherstburg, Eugene Whelan’s home town.
I cannot say I knew Whelan well, though I did hear him speak a few times following his retirement from the House of Commons and prior to his appointment as a senator in 1996. He, on the other hand, was a bit of fan of my scribblings in the old Voice of the Farmer, or so I was told by one of his Liberal colleagues who, like Whelan, served as agriculture minister in Ottawa, if only briefly.
I once interviewed Whelan at his home. It seemed rather a modest place for a parliamentarian who had managed to make a name for himself well beyond the confines of the farming community; a split level, perhaps constructed in the 1970s, facing the river and beyond the river the United States.
It was here, gazing at the river and its distant shore that Whelan told me a story, something that puzzled me at the time. Whelan liked to speak in a rambling and often cryptic manner, allowing his listeners to come to their own conclusions, though perhaps nudged toward his view on the matter at hand
In short, I was told that bald eagles prefer their prey live. It’s only now, two decades later, that I’ve come to understand that Whelan was speaking of people rather than actual birds, intimating to the extent that decisions taken in the United States impact policy and the direction of government in Canada.
I’m not sure if Whelan was spot on with his analysis yet the governance of Canada and its closest neighbour was at best troubling, as it is today. A large segment of the population remains convinced government intervention utilizing borrowed money is the way forward.
Consider, for instance, the paternalistic approach that continues to be taken with Canada’s Indigenous peoples. All the major political parties have promised major investments, the New Democrats offering to head even further down that particular road, and yet no amount of money spent will make much of a difference if these diverse communities are not first empowered.
Climate change is another most pertinent example, one inextricably linked to the farming community. Not only is North American agriculture among the largest greenhouse gas emitters, it also has greatest potential to address the issue. Yet during the course of the election that potential received scant mention, if any mention at all.
The farming community needs to be properly compensated for what they do, rather than living at the knife’s edge. Only then can a sensible approach to land management and carbon sequestration be achieved.
Housing is another critical issue and yet again government is expected to address the issue with dollars being spent. I even heard it proposed by one advocate for the homeless, a view aired by our national broadcaster, that free housing should become a right for all Canadians yet no explanation of how that could be actually achieved was provided.
Government in Canada needs to be empowered as well. A return to civility is needed, certainly, and the idea of the common good embraced. Like Justin Trudeau proposed and then reneged upon, proportional representation could make an important decision, better representing the populace and shifting parliament toward a constructive, cooperative approach. ◊