Commentary on prison farm closings

The following commentary is by Grant Robertson, whose National Farmers Union (of which I’m a part) commentaries I’ve been reading for a while now. I agree with him wholly…wake up rural Canada and stop voting Conservative! That said, I haven’t yet decided which other party would be the best alternative, but anything would be better than more of Harper’s government. Michael Ignatieff of the Liberals actually has a National Food Policy which is a bit of a miracle in itself. And I have heard Jack Layton of the NDP speak about food security and sustainability issues, so I know he at least understands even if rural Canada doesn’t seem like a high priority in the NDP’s platform (though since we’re not officially in election mode yet, I really can’t say what any party’s platform is right now!).
I cannot wait for the next election to be called…please Canada, let’s not be complacent. For our country to actually function as a democracy, we actually have to participate in it. Despite its many deficiencies, I still love Canada and wouldn’t choose to live anywhere else. We are so blessed to have all the rights that we have here, but we need to actively make sure those rights are truly available to all Canadians, and not placidly assume that they are actually a reality.
What would actually work in our current apathetic climate to get people to care about issues and have informed opinions? And how do we actually get politicians to listen to us and hold them accountable for representing us? Anyone with any ideas on how we can actively participate in our democracy, especially beyond voting at the polls, should share them with everyone! Considering how much time the average person spends social networking via Facebook, Twitter, and who knows how many other methods that I haven’t heard of yet, there must be some way to excite some real political thinking for the next election.
Showing disrespect for rural and small town Canada seems to keep the Harper government busier than a dog at a tree farm
A commentary by;
Grant Robertson

It is now abundantly clear that the Harper government was never committed to working for the best interests of farmers, small business owners, communities and much of rural and small town Canada, and worse, that this government disrespects us and see us as little more than a quaint relic of the past.  Those are strong words I know, but how else do you explain the comments from this government around the closing of Canada’s prison farms?  Despite almost 50 years of verifiable success of the program the Harper government, in its increasingly strident ideological way, is closing down these farms and planning to spend billions on new super-prisons.  These farms have provided practical work experience, but even more importantly they have helped to instil a much missing work ethic in inmates that has made a vast difference in their lives.

We know, in part from Statistics Canada data, that many of the inmates in our prison system grew up in situations where it is unlikely they learned the value of work- work was something to be avoided and for ‘losers’.  Many former inmates have come forward to talk about how the prison farm program turned their lives around.  One such inmate is John Leeman who says he had never worked a real job when he went into jail but he learned skills while working on a prison farm that allowed him to find meaningful employment when he was released.   “There’s just tremendous opportunities working on a farm.  Not everyone is going to come out a farmer, but the work ethic alone is definitely a step in the right direction.” (

A wide range of farm and civil society organizations have opposed the move.  But instead of listening, the Harper government just charged ahead with the Minister in charge, Vic Toews, speaking on behalf of the Harper government, and let’s be blunt Conservative MPs in rural and small town ridings across Canada: “My responsibility as public safety minister is to ensure that individuals who are in our facilities receive training that is appropriate, receive skills that are appropriate to the environment they will be returning to. It’s not a productive use of the convicts that are incarcerated for a period of time … Our responsibility is to provide appropriate training and jobs skills so that they can be reintegrated in a wholesome fashion in society at large.”
In other words, the Harper government has no faith in the future of farm families in Canada.  None.  It is all there in black and white.  If this government believed in a future for farming, then training people to work directly in the industry or in the many secondary industries attached to food production would be “productive”, “appropriate” or even able to produce “job skills”.  What this also shows is that rural and small town Conservative MPs from across Canada, in ridings like my own in Huron-Bruce, have been complete and utter failures and need to be replaced.  These MPs promised us, when asking for our votes, that they would go and fight for small town and rural Canada.  Instead they have given up on us for anything else but a vote factory.  Why a single rural or small town Canadian would still vote for these people is beyond my ability to understand when the record is so clear.

According to the government the prison farms produce about $7.5 million in revenues against $11.6 million in expenses for a loss of some $4.1 million.  Well government MPs, welcome to today’s farming reality.  Instead of giving up and walking away you should be trying to fix the problems your policies have helped to create.  That you won’t, and see training anyone to have agricultural skills as wasteful, is why rural and small town Canadians will need to step up and send you packing in the next election.

Until March of 2010 Grant Robertson was the senior elected official with the National Farmers Union-Ontario.  As Ontario Coordinator Robertson was also a National Board Member of the NFU for 5 and half years. As Ontario Coordinator Grant guided the NFU in Ontario through a period of sustained growth and spent those years traveling across many parts of Canada speaking with and listening to farmers, eaters, politicians and business interests.  Grant and his family farm near Paisley, Ontario.  The author can be contacted at

This is the story of my journey into sustainable agriculture. From the streets of downtown Toronto, to the farm land of southern Ontario, I hope to discover the techniques and practices that work for me in both mind and heart.

6 thoughts on “Commentary on prison farm closings”

  1. I just want to say how impressed I am with your site and your thoughts. I too am having difficulty deciding who to vote for – although I DO know who I am NOT voting for.

    I think that I would like to see a Coalition.

  2. As a caveat, I must admit that I'm pretty ignorant when it comes to conventional politics.

    Anyways, I'm reading a book, "Revolution From Within", which makes a strong point that the self-esteem (the belief that each person counts and can make a difference) of a people is the basis of any real democracy. [She goes on to speak of the psychology behind it and how colonialism, authoritarian regimes and even economic development can actively undermine the self-belief of a people and blah blah blah…]

    No matter how much we tell ourselves or like to believe we live in a democracy doesn't make it so. Like you say, democracy requires conscious and thoughtful action on behalf of everyone-constantly.

    Until we believe in our own worth and abilities; until we begin working to empower ourselves and become responsible for our own lives/actions and as well those of our communities (both human and non-human), we will always be pushed around by someone who doesn't have our best interests at heart (if they even have one of those *cough cough*).

    "Only a person or a nation self-confident in the best sense of the word is capable of listening to the voice of others and accepting them as equal to oneself. Let us try to introduce self-confidence into the life of our community and into the conduct of nations." — Vaclav Havel, former Czechoslovakian president

    There are no magic bullets for the situation we find ourselves in. All I can suggest is to slow down, pay attention, and take care.

    On another note, here's an interesting read that is a bit off topic. It's more along the lines of community decision making from a Native American perspective:

    (P.S. Hi Brenda, it's kirk. I'm back in Ontario, by the by. Do you need any more carpet pulled up? I'd love to see how you and your farm are doing sometime before the black walnuts drop)

  3. Kirk! I'm so glad you're still around 🙂 You're welcome to come to the farm any time…no need to pull carpet…the weeds are much more of a priority! You could help me rescue my onions from pigweed, lamb's quarters and brome grass 🙂 And I have to introduce you to my neighbours who are building the most incredible tower.

  4. I'm watching with great interest to see what Prime Minister Harper's next great move will be. Participation in our democracy, although somewhat trying, can and will produce positive results. The Conservative Government does not deserve to be reelected. I beg
    of every Canadian to stand up and get out and vote in the next federal election. Vote Green, NDP or Liberal, just don't vote Conservative.

  5. Thanks for posting that. Very revealing about the total fraud being perpetrated by the Harper gov't in terms of their lack of respect for rural Canada.

    And I even wandered over to the NFU site from your blog. I wasn't even aware of that free trade agreement with Europe – which is as scary as anything.

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