2nd Session, 41st Parliament,

Volume 149, Issue 53

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Honourable Pierre Claude Nolin, Speaker pro tempore

National Defence

Expropriation of Farm Land of Frank Meyers

(Audio link below)

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, my question is to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. This question, along with the preamble, was submitted by Lisa Gibson on behalf of Frank Meyers and his 56,000 supporters.

The Liberal Senate forum received almost 40 questions on this topic through our new Question Period initiative. Of the questions, this one was submitted on behalf of Frank Meyers. My question is as follows.

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Frank Meyers is an 86-year-old farmer from Trenton, Ontario. He was born on and has been farming the same land for his entire life. It was bestowed upon his forefather by King George III over 200 years ago as a gift for his service during the American Revolution. Signed in May 1978, a Crown patent assigned the property to the Meyers family forever. I emphasize “forever.” This land has since been expropriated by the Department of National Defence so that a joint task force training facility can be constructed.

Simply put, this land and farming are the only things that Frank has ever known. They are now being ripped away from him. Frank has worked tirelessly throughout his life to feed his family as well as the people of Canada. As such, it only seems appropriate that he be held in the highest regard. Please be advised that we have several concerns we would like addressed regarding the expropriation of the farm.

Leader, the main issue is the disappearance of farmland in Canada. With our world population increasing, so should the need for prime farmland. We have millions of acres of Crown land available in Canada — land that isn’t suitable for growing food; land that is already owned by the government, such as nearby Mountain View. Why can the base not be constructed in one of these locations?

Also, there does not seem to be any logic in using taxpayer money to expropriate land and construct a new military base with several mothballed bases across the country. It would seem far more practical to refurbish an existing base.

My question, leader, is this: Why is Frank Meyers being denied the farmland that has been in his family for 200 years?

[Translation]

Hon. Claude Carignan (Leader of the Government): I thank the honourable senator for her question.

As you know, our government has invested and is investing in the creation of a new training campus at Canadian Forces Base Trenton that will optimize its training and operational capabilities.

This investment will also help to create hundreds of jobs in the region and will bring millions of dollars into the local economy.

The Government of Canada has handled this land expropriation very delicately and has offered Mr. Meyers full compensation for his property.

We have received assurances that government representatives have always treated Mr. Meyers with respect and have taken the specifics of his situation into account throughout the process. Representatives of the Government of Canada and the Canadian Armed Forces have also prepared a flexible implementation schedule to allow Mr. Meyers to move his equipment and possessions. 8 Wing/CFB Trenton will take possession gradually and respectfully. Mr. Meyers still lives in his home, which was not part of the expropriation.

[English]

Senator Jaffer: Leader, I very much appreciate your response to my question and your concern that Mr. Meyers be given all the respect he is due to move him out of his land.

I personally met with Mr. Meyers when I was in Trenton, and I can tell you that this is a man who truly loves the land he farms. He is absolutely devastated. There is no delicate way that you can part a farmer from his land.

Mr. Meyers stated that our soldiers and veterans proudly serve our country. However, they are facing cutbacks across the board. Veterans offices are closing, making accessibility almost non- existent. In addition, our serving members appear to be experiencing tragic mental health crises. Rather than constructing new military bases, should the government not instead be using taxpayer money to provide the soldiers with health care and the necessities of life they so desperately need? Would that not seem more appropriate at this time when money is hard to find rather than building new military bases?

[Translation]

Senator Carignan: Senator Jaffer, as you know, we try to make the best possible use of taxpayers’ money.

I certainly understand how people feel when their land is expropriated to serve the public good. My family’s land was expropriated to build a waste site. Just think of the ancestral lands that were used to build a waste site. When the Mirabel airport was being built, land belonging to my wife’s family was expropriated by Prime Minister Trudeau, who expropriated land for no reason, land that was then given back by our government.

I truly understand how someone feels when their property is expropriated. However, in the specific case you mentioned, our government has handled the expropriation very delicately and offered Mr. Meyers full compensation for his property. I would have appreciated such sensitivity in negotiations with the previous government on other matters.

[English]

Hon. Jim Munson: With all due respect, this is a big country. How do you “expropriate delicately” when you’re taking somebody’s land away?

[Translation]

Senator Carignan: Expropriation is always difficult. Collective and private interests must be balanced in the public interest. As I explained, Mr. Meyers is still living in his home and his land is being taken over gradually.

As I said, we have been given assurances that government representatives acted with sensitivity in the discussions that led to the expropriation. I think that is the right way to go about it.

Unfortunately, from time to time, private assets must serve the collective interest. In such cases, government representatives must act with sensitivity, and we have been assured that they did in this case.

[English]

Hon. Terry M. Mercer: It is interesting, Senator Carignan, that you used the words “collective interest.” Let’s pursue that debate with respect to Mr. Meyers’ situation.

According to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the agriculture and agri-food food industry contributes $100 billion annually to Canada’s gross domestic product. That’s more than the national GDP of two thirds of the world’s countries.

According to CropLife Canada, in 1931, 1 in 3 Canadians lived on a farm; today it’s 1 in 46. One out of every eight Canadians’ jobs now relates to agriculture.

This next statistic will shock all honourable senators. World food demand is expected to increase by 70 per cent by 2050. I repeat: 70 per cent.

Could the Leader of the Government tell us why the government is allowing yet another farm to be expropriated when we are so desperately going to need it in the future for the collective interest of feeding the world and Canadians?

[Translation]

Senator Carignan: Senator Mercer, when you talk about statistics in general terms and you try to make the link to a specific situation, I believe that you are spreading misinformation. This situation is about the expansion of the military base. You cannot make that kind of extrapolation.

I could add that, before the parliamentary break, you asked me questions about railways and the problem we were faced with before Minister Raitt made decisions with respect to grain transportation. There was a record grain harvest. Record harvests must be managed, and we made decisions about rail transportation.

Separate decisions must be made to deal with each of these problems. You cannot make the link that you did, because that creates misinformation.

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This is a particular situation in Ontario, with the expansion of the military base. Unfortunately for Mr. Meyers, his land is next to the training centre, which is needed for training and operations.

[English]

Senator Mercer: I’m sorry, Your Honour, that I’m making the Leader of the Government in the Senate uncomfortable. I really am, but he is making Mr. Meyers more than uncomfortable.

By the way, leader, in your reference to my questions prior to the break about the transportation of grain from Western Canada, you used the phrase “the crops were too big.” In all of my 10 years sitting on the Agriculture Committee, I’ve never met a farmer who said, “I grew too much last year; I produced too much.” That’s a problem that any farmer would like to have.

Honourable senators, Mr. Meyers is 86 years old and has lived on this farm his entire life, and he has managed it his entire life. He contributes to the almost $100 billion annually that agriculture contributes to Canada’s GDP and also to the over $90 billion generated each year in the manufacturing of food and food products.

Why is this government again allowing the family farm to be destroyed when the family farm is so important not only to today’s economy but also to yesterday’s economy and to the economy in the future?

[Translation]

Senator Carignan: In this case, we at least have the assurance that the government is investing in a new training facility at Canadian Forces Base Trenton, which will generate savings. I mentioned that in the late 1960s, your former leader, Mr. Trudeau, the father of the other Mr. Trudeau, expropriated farms and land surrounding Mirabel airport in much larger quantities, and they were never used in the public interest.

[English]

 

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