By Connor Lynch
NORTH GOWER — Government bureaucracy has been slower to get out of Dwight Foster’s way than the water soaking his fields and killing his crops. He’s hoping a recent visit from the provincial ag minister might change that.
The North Gower cash crop farmer and grain elevator owner has been struggling alongside many Eastern Ontario farmers with the rain that started early in the season. Foster estimates that about 10 per cent of his acreage has been wiped out by standing water that drowned his corn and soybeans. Not enough for a crop insurance claim, but enough to affect his bottom line, he said.
Rainfall is not the sole culprit. A nearby municipal drain that’s needed cleaning out for 40 years has waited four years since a formal request went in, he told Farmers Forum, and nothing has happened since. Foster has been rotated around between the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority, Parks Canada, Oceans and Fisheries Canada, and the City of Ottawa, to no avail, he said. Ditches and drains in the City of Ottawa are under its jurisdiction, unless they’re municipal drains (governed by a local municipality), a ditch with permanent water considered to be a fish habitat (regulated either by a local conservation authority or the Department of Fisheries and Oceans), or a ditch near or in a wetland (regulated by a conservation authority).
Simply adding to the problem was Parks Canada’s decision to not let the water in the system drain out through the Rideau Canal into the Ottawa River. “We had a water issue from early April. Parks Canada didn’t recognize that and let the water through.
“When the government chooses to use water systems for things other than draining water away, then I’ve got a big problem with that.”
Parks Canada Communications Officer Valerie De Winter told Farmers Forum that the decision to hold back the water in May and July was made to ensure the safety of boaters and people using the canal. Parks Canada put out a press release on May 17, which said the closure was to “most importantly protect boater safety, and will help prevent further shoreline erosion and property damage experienced by local residents and businesses.” Though De Winter could not confirm if Parks Canada was aware that a delay in opening the locks could make things worse for farmers already struggling to drain their land, she said that the decision to delay opening the locks was made on a “system-wide basis.” When asked if that meant that a potential cost to farmers was weighed against a potential danger to boaters, De Winter said “safety is Parks Canada’s number one priority. This decision was made in the context of that.”
Foster is more inclined to believe the decision was made so that Gatineau, and areas along the Ottawa River east of the canal weren’t flooded more than they already were. “So they were fine to let our fields flood and know that it was going to ruin the crops rather than let the water go through.”
Foster received a visit from Ontario Agriculture Minister Jeff Leal last month. “Leal is going to write some letters to these government agencies to say ‘Hey, get out of these farmer’s faces and let them do what they’re good at, growing crops.’”