| Mar 31, 2005

Feature article, March 17, 2005

Feature article March 17 2005

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Leona euchres Lanark Landowners

The Lanark Landowners Association planned a large action in Toronto last week, hoping for an opportunity to publicize the plight of rural Ontario at the hands of the Provincial Government.

Their rally was hindered by bad luck. In the middle of the rally a man set himself on fire. The TV and newspaper crews literally turned away from the rally, and many never did come back. But earlier in the day the Landowners message had already been diluted.


On the day before the Lanark Landowners rally, Environment Minister Leona Dombrowsky drew the Toronto media and the CBCs attention to a photo of a dead deer that Lanark Landowners President Randy Hiller had emailed to her, a picture that had the name Leona written on it. So when Randy Hillier was interviewed on CBC radio at 7:20 on the morning of the protest, more time was devoted to the emailed picture than was devoted to the government policies that the LLA seeks to reverse. Later, a defiant Leona Dombrowsky was heard on the radio saying she would not be intimidated by the Landowners tactics. And the Provincial Cabinet expressed solidarity with her. Hilliers response was relatively weak. Maybe we have a different sense of humour, he said.

Sending someone a photo of a dead deer with their name on it as a political statement shows, at best, a sophomoric cense of humour. At worst it is just plain offensive, comprising an implicit threat. Politically, it was foolish, and Leona Dombrowsky used it to her advantage last week, at the expense of Randy Hillier.

It turns out that the emailed picture was sent last June, making Dombrowskys anger last Tuesday seem somewhat suspect, coming as it does nine months after receiving the picture. Nonetheless the damage was done, and Steve Peters, the Ontario Agriculture Minister made a point of saying he was not going to meet with the Lanark Landowners as he had done when the Ontario Federation of Agriculture staged a rally in Toronto a week earlier.

The enmity between Leona Dombrowsky and Hillier is palpable. Hillier once told the Frontenac News that Dombrowsky was not welcome in Lanark County, and when the News asked Leona Dombrowsky about the Lanark Landowners, there was a silence, followed by the curt statement, I am aware of them, and she left it at that.

What Dombrowsky did to Hillier last week over the emailed picture is a demonstration that the Lanark Landowners are facing their most difficult political opponent yet. The Landowners rock is finding its hard place with Leona Dombrowsky.

Unlike almost all of the four million people in Toronto last week, and unlike most of her cabinet colleagues, Leona Dombrowsky understands the Landowners issues extremely well. In fact she has been working effectively to deal with some of the concerns.

While the Lanark Landowners are effective at fomenting outrage about a range of government actions, they are weak at acknowledging when a change has been made. In fact, the Province has reversed its policies regarding the taxing of sugar shacks as industrial sites; has refunded the taxation collected at the end of 2003 from seasonal campground owners; and Dombrowskys own Ministry has put a hold on water regulations 170/03, pending a review. The issue around sawdust, which was mentioned by Randy Hillier in Toronto last week, is also under review, and the Ministry of Natural Resources has made changes to deer hunting regulations as they pertain to farmers in Lanark, which was one of the original impetuses for the Lanark Landowners in the first place.

Behind the scenes, the Liberal Government in Ontario has been struggling to gain political control over the bureaucracies within the various departments, and the Ministry of the Environment has been no exception to this. A lot of the complaints from farmers and rural business owners have to do with bullying tactics of ministry officials in the way they apply regulations, and it is the job of the government to rein these people in.

The jury is still out as to whether the Ministry of he Environment can bring in effective environmental controls without hindering social and economic development in rural Ontario.

The ultimate basis for the Lanark Landowners ability to connect with rural Ontarians is the fact that international pressures and indifferent governments are crushing rural Ontario, and people are angry. Many government regulations have been poorly executed and badly implemented. This is all true. But for the Lanark Landowners to have a lasting impact, they need to come up with some practical solutions. The resolutions the Landowners brought to Queens Park last week were uniformly negative.

You cant sustain a movement by telling government to leave you alone and at the same time complain they arent helping you enough.

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