Complete Lack of Government Action Endangering the Public Health and Environment
A Commentary by Robert J. Galbraith October 5, 2015
Philipsburg, Quebec, Canada – Over the last three decades, blue-green algae contamination of our waterways has been rapidly spreading across the province, putting the health of the public at great risk. This threat began in the late 1970’s, with the heavy industrialization of our agricultural sector and the rise of the factory farm. The resulting outcome was the exponential rise in the amounts pollution produced by the agricultural industry from the new factory crop – pigs.
The ‘good old days’ of the family farm were in a free-fall as massive new pig barns, (farms holding thousands of pigs), exploded across the province, with the regions of Brome-Missisquoi, the Beauce and Haute Yamaska having the majority. In just a handful of years, the pig population in rural Quebec went from around 800,000 hogs, to nearly six million.
Corn being the main diet of pigs, the above regions became the major contributor to the monoculture of corn, great seas of corn as far as the eye can see. Grown year after year after year, corn zaps the nutrients from the soil resulting in the farmer having to boost the soil by introducing large applications of man-made fertilizers, and the fecal waste produced by the burgeoning pig population. Then there are the herbicides, fungicides and pesticides; sprayed on the crop to protect the corn monoculture from weeds, fungal outbreaks and insects.
The liquid pig excrement is sprayed onto the fields in the spring and fall, the same period when we receive most of our rain. Now add this with some of the farmers who lacking common sense, plough their fields right up to a creek or lake, resulting in a chemical cocktail of nasty toxins and other pollutants surging into the waterways, the same water you drink and serve your children daily.
Most farmers are good people who love their land and take care of it and the surrounding environment, guardians of our food supply; but it is the ones who are knowingly polluting the environment; they just don’t give a damn. Some of the worst polluters can be found right in your backyard; including Pike River, St-Armand (as this photo shows) and along pretty-well every other waterway in this province, from the western border with Ontario to the Gulf of the St. Lawrence. There are no rules but voluntary guidelines – there is no policing, no referees! Southern Quebec is the wild wild west of agricultural lawlessness and subversion.
When pig excrement is washed into the waterway, the large amount of nitrates and phosphors that it contains are also washed into the water. These two nutrients don’t only help corn grow, but once they find their way into the water, they fertilize the aquatic plants and organisms like blue-green algae, resulting in huge blooms of algae that resemble massive, green and blue oil slicks that cover many square kilometres of water. As spring progresses and the lake or stream water starts warming up, this, along with the farm nutrients, causes these toxic algae explosions across La Belle Province.
Phosphors and nitrates occur naturally in the environment and most bodies of water can buffer the effects and a small inundation of more nutrients by man, but by industrializing the agricultural sector, that was the straw that broke the camel’s, or the lake’s back. Massive amounts of these nutrients have saturated many bodies of water, particularly Missisquoi Bay, the Poster Child of political environmental blunders.
Perhaps the biggest culprit in the spread of blue-green algae has been the complete lack of political will, or courage, and a complete ignorance of this threat to society, (or all three), by our shameless elected officials; at every political level, past and present!
Those on the front line of this disaster want to know where their local political leaders have been all these years. We are just days away from a federal election and there is a flurry of political hand grabbing with one candidate even stating that they will save Missisquoi Bay and Memphremagog. Should we give them the dignity of our vote?
If a person is old enough to vote, then he or she should be old enough to realize that Santa Claus comes every year, not just every 4 years. The local politicians responsible for our health and a clean environment were never seen to help or offer any kind of moral or concrete support when things got really bad; they became political ghosts in our communities, hiding out somewhere, maybe with the ‘clique’ in Ottawa or Quebec City.
Next to the spread of blue-green algae contamination, there is the ongoing clear-cutting of waterfront habitat (the protective natural buffers) along our lakes, river fronts, streams and creeks, by the agri-community, aimed at increasing the farmers growing space and therefore their profits, but allowing for the unimpeded flow of this dangerous cocktail into the water systems and the consequential erosion that follows.
The result of the clearing is that it allows for this host of chemical fertilizers and animal excrement (used as fertilizer), unrestrained access to our waterways. This is especially true during the spring and fall, when seasonal rains flush the chemicals and staggering amounts of soil and animal waste into our waterways.
The vegetation lining a waterway absorbs and reduces this flow of chemicals into a water system, especially during rainfall. The free-flow situation is further enhanced when the farmer ploughs his field right up to the water’s edge, which if you visit the farming community, is more the rule than the exception. Quebec is the Wild Wild West of bad agricultural practices and environmental degradation.
There is not much hope when there is no honest political courage, copious amounts of chemicals flowing into the water system and the stripping of the natural shoreline or stream side habitats.
This concept of farming has reached the point where the public’s health is constantly at threat and the environment is continually under siege, all in the name of boosting farm productivity and profit margins, without any consideration for those in our society who suffer from this form of profiteering, or pirateering, as many would consider this a form of subjugation of a people.
All of the above are contributing to an ongoing environmental and health disaster which has seen farm nutrient effluence (primarily nitrates and phosphors) spread in our water systems from Lake Erie to as far east as Rivière-du-Loup in the Gulf of St Lawrence.
Not only that, but as the problem spreads, the cyanobacteria is seeping into and contaminating innumerable ground water aquifers and forcing the closer of wells used by the rural community, leaving them to find clean drinking water elsewhere, such as by purchasing it in a store.
It is every Canadian’s right to clean drinking water and we shouldn’t be forced to buy it, and like the tight surveillance and restrictions we have on the foods that we rely upon as a basic everyday necessity (meats and dairy products for example), the same should go for our drinking water. These are basic human needs and they should be protected in a so-called civilized society.
The key reason for this spread in Quebec is due to a complete lack of provincial policing of the hugely-powerful and bullying, agricultural industry – Union des producteurs agricoles (UPA) and the fact that there are only voluntary guidelines, and not laws, in place for farmers to follow concerning how far from a waterway you can spray, plough or drop fertilizers.
This means the industry can pretty-well pollute at will, without any real fear of persecution as there is no one out there watching them and no one to enforce any discipline. For obvious reasons, no industry whatsoever should be self-regulatory, especially when it concerns threatening public health and the environment.
If this was any other industry, you can be sure they would be regulated. But this is the way it is, and no matter what is said in the heat of this election, you are being used for your vote with hollow promises. These people have no idea how to clean up the problem, nor does the Ministry of the Environment, federally or provincially. In fact, they throw all their support and public money behind this rouge industry
They have become a useless entity due to political posturing and deep cuts in staff and research funding. They have become the slaves to this industry and the politicians. It is a pathetic situation and it is not about to improve.
In the 1980’s the Parti Quebecois downsized environmental responsibility from the province and onto the municipalities. So where we once had experts in the field of pollution research and water management, we now have small town mayors (truck drivers, farmers etc.), most of whom don’t have a clue about environmental management or the way ecosystems operate, or running a progressive environmental agenda in their region. This leads to corruption and a state of environmental anarchy that is akin to having a car mechanic carrying out open heart surgery on a heart attack victim.
Blue green algae are actually technically known as cyanobacteria. They are microscopic organisms that occur naturally in lakes and streams. They can become very abundant in warm, shallow water that receives a lot of sunlight and nutrients, such as those that farm fertilizers provide.
Cyanobacteria contamination has also closed waterways in the cottage country of the Laurentian region of the province. Albeit, these closings had nothing to do with farm effluent but everything to do with cottage owners mowing their lawns to the very edge of the lake then spreading store-bought lawn fertilizers which easily find their way into the lake waters.
This scenario is basically the same, in a roundabout way, as the agri-zone, only that is was cottagers spreading the nitrates and phosphors and clearing the shoreline of vegetation, instead of farmers.
The Quebec Laurentian tourism region problem was quickly addressed and stopped when the municipalities set into motion new by-laws restricting the cottager from fertilizing their lawns (if it fronted a waterway) and enforcement of a by-law that asserted leaving a natural barrier (plants and bushes) along the lake edge to buffer any further contaminants from easily gaining access to the water. By this example, we can see that the problem can be reversed using this practice; it just takes an honest initiative, not lip service or a complete ignorance of the topic, as there presently appears to be.
When this abundance of nutrients occurs in our waters, the algae blooms explode, overwhelming a body of water and rendering it off-limits to human activity and consumption due to toxic cyanobacteria levels that threaten human health.
Last summer, 2 million residents of Toledo, Ohio were cut-off from their drinking water supply when cyanobacteria contamination was found in their drinking water. This lasted 3 days before the levels reduced enough for it to be allowed drinkable. Three-quarters of Lake Erie had a mat of algae covering its surface. The culprit, once again, is badly conceived, heavily-industrialized agricultural practices along the waterways bordering and flowing into that Great Lake.
Cyanobacteria’s toxins are released into the water as the cells of the blue-green algae die off. The toxins (also referred to as microcystin) increase as the algae contamination increases and are found year-round in most waters affected by algae blooms. So the poison is always with us and can survive our winters, ready for a fresh start in the spring, when the water heats up and the farm run-off overwhelms our waterways, especially after the spring rains wash this Pandora’s Box of chemicals into the waterways of this beautiful province.
Water filtering systems used in Quebec’s water filtration plants just take out the solids and floating debris, they do not remove the toxins and the host of deadly farm chemicals. Even boiling the water does not remove cyanobacteria or kill the health threat. There is no way of avoiding it except for finding another source of clean drinking water.
If you ingest tainted water, or eat fish containing elevated levels of toxins, you may experience headaches, fever, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting. If you swim in contaminated water, you can get itchy and irritated eyes, skin, nose and throat, as well as other adverse reactions.
If you suspect you might have come into contact with cyanobacterial microcystins, consult your physician immediately. People with skin or internal sickness such as liver or immune problems, should stay well clear of this sort of contamination as it can complicate other maladies in the human body.
In places like Missisquoi Bay, in Quebec’s Eastern Townships region, this ‘No drinking the water or having contact with it’ period has slowly been expanding and now can last from mid-June to October. So the problem is definitely growing at a fast rate.
One might wonder after 30+ years; why hasn’t this problem been resolved? That is because the present political system encourages the polluting of our waterways by not addressing the situation. It can all be summed-up in one word – Profit!
Pollution recovery (under the guise of environmental protection) has become a hugely profitable industry unto itself – and if you happen to know the right contact, you can feed at the trough too, like the politicians and industry leaders, and sell your soul for the almighty buck. That is because there is so much money involved and absolutely nothing, except the usual monotonous government gibberish and political butt-covering and kissing and the spreading of your money for useless projects. This, the smoke and mirrors, appears to be the governments answer to correcting the situation. There is no one looking out for you, you are just a pawn, a check mark on a ballot.
That’s close to three-decades; an entire generation, of lake closings, water contamination and the destruction of numerous ecosystems, social unrest and a recreation business disaster; and this is the reality of where we stand today, as the threat worsens.
Our leaders and representatives walk hand-in-hand with this industry that threatens the human population with the spreading of these deadly contaminants.
The first people to be effected by cyanobacteria are young children, the elderly, the sick, and low income families who cannot afford to buy bottled water and have no means to move away from the heaviest contaminated regions. Every time they serve their family drinking water from the tap, especially during warmer months, many wonder if they are playing water “Russian Roulette,” with their families’ health. Many have to grin and bear it, usually the low income families or those on social services.
There is a great mistrust by consumers towards health and municipal officials who tell them the water is safe to drink one day but not the next. Even on a so-called good day, it pours out of the water tap green and cloudy and smelling like rotting vegetables. How long does one accept this sort of indecision before being forced to buy bottled water? Would you serve potentially tainted water to your children? Some people have no choice.
The general public is used to being advised not to shower, drink, touch, swim, sail, fish or let their animals (pets or farm animals, as a number of dogs have died from this form of toxin consumption) have any contact with the water in contaminated regions. But it is now seems acceptable, a part of everyday life that the water has been poisoned. Now there are no such cyanobacteria warnings because there has been so many warnings happening that the government can’t keep posting the warnings fast enough and changing them as conditions change.
So now the ‘No swimming’ or ‘No contact with Water’ signs stay permanently nailed to trees or on fence posts year round. They have become unreadable and hidden by branches and shrubbery as time passes. This leaves people to seek alternative water sources and spells the end for any recreational activities, while stifling all local tourism-related economy of the region. It is a disgusting and sad situation for those who live alongside the threat, but for those who live in the large cities, it may as well be happening on Mars as it doesn’t affect them, until they go on vacation and find out they are camping near a contaminated waterway and they come down with diarrhoea or other medical problems.
The consumer has been left to decide when or when not to drink the water. Also, many of the consumers can live kilometres away from the contaminated water body and never see how bad the water looks, but they consume it. They take it for granted that the government would protect them from drinking tainted water. But in this situation, the government or governments have bailed, leaving the consumer to decide whether to drink, or not to drink.
Businesses such as restaurants are forced to buy bottled water, at a great expense, which drives up their customers’ tab; and for the cleaning of dishes and tableware. The same with goes with local health clinics which need clean water to sterilize their equipment, cleansing dialysis machines or IV units used in treating patients. It is best to get any help far away from the threat, like a city.
The packaging of vegetables for mass, public consumption is also of great concern as they also don’t want to make their customers sick with toxin-tainted foods. But is this risk to the public’s health being watched closely? You might want to avoid any medical facilities or food stuffs, especially packed vegetables, grown in an area known to have blue-green algae problems, unless the business has an alternative fresh water supply.
When I go into a local café or restaurant in the agricultural regions, I always ask if the water they use is bottled. However, most of these businesses have been asked this question so many times that they have regularly been using bottled water for years, and absorbing the cost.
Children are at greater risk than adults of developing serious liver damage (through cyanobacterial hepatotoxins) should they ingest toxins, because of their comparatively lower body weight. An infant bathed in tainted water is more likely to get a skin rash than an adult, as their skin is more sensitive to toxins. So the parent must be especially vigilant when it comes to children’s health and cyanobacteria. The same goes for the elderly, who are susceptible to algae-based-infections that can result in premature death and suffering.
It is hard to believe, but it would seem that to escape the scourge of poisoned water, one must move the family to a big city where you know the drinking water is clean and tested daily. All because of a fear of this man-made “Boogie Man” in our water.
On the environmental side of the blue-green issue, complete ecosystems have been disrupted and destroyed. One example of this is found in recent scientific studies which show that high levels of nutrients used in farming activities which fuel algae blooms, in turn, drives sky-rocketing parasitic infections; as the algae increases, parasites increase.
The main parasite associated with algae blooms is a small type of worm known scientifically as a trematode. Trematodes cause deformities in the limbs and bodies of amphibians that live in these polluted areas. In some areas, up to 30% of the frog population has been observed with some form of deformity, including six-legged frogs or frogs with no legs.
The parasite is found in a small species of snail that birds and other animals eat, and then spread the parasite to other areas through defecation. The minuscule worms attack the skin of tadpoles, drilling into it. The frog’s natural reaction is for its body to subsequently form cysts around the parasite, encasing it and isolating the parasite. This disruption of the tadpole’s growth causes the amphibian to grow another set of legs or forearms, isolating the parasite but resulting in missing limbs, extra limbs and other severe malformations.
Frogs with deformities have their mobility affected and as a result, they easily fall prey to predators such as herons. The deformities result in plummeting amphibian populations and the other creatures that rely on these populations as food sources (game fish and wading birds for example). The whole ecosystem is disrupted, destroying the natural balance of the effected area.
The overloading of phosphates inundate a water system, causing unnatural explosions in aquatic plant growth including blue green algae. As this plant growth dies off, it uses up the oxygen levels in the water in its breakdown process, and the fish and other oxygen needing organisms, suffocate from a lack of oxygen in the water, leaving the effected body of water dead, or utrified. This situation is referred to as “cultural eutrophication.”
Fish, such as trout and other salmonoid species, are the first to disappear as the oxygen level is depleted and the water warms-up due to increased plant growth. It is a long chain of eco-destruction from this point. That is except for low-oxygen-consuming fish like carp, a large, invasive species of fish.
The carp (dozens at a time) take over the marshlands and shallow areas of the lake, turning these areas into mud bowls as the they (weighing up to 25 kilograms) thrash about during their spawning rituals. This increased sediment disturbance suffocates other fish species eggs causing them to fail and making the water uninhabitable to most fish. This is just one player in the chain of destruction of an ecosystem, which starts with the present, industrial farming practices.
The situation is dire as politicians of all ranks and levels refuse to address the situation by challenging or confronting this industry for its disgusting ways because the politician understands perfectly clear, that by challenging the industry, it can lead to the death of their political careers, (coal town politics).
Corn is the main crop grown in Quebec and soya second. Both are grown mostly as animal feed. Corn is also used to produce ethanol, used as a supplement in gasoline which is supposed to reduce greenhouse gases and our carbon footprint, but in reality, the manufacturers are polluting our waterways to produce the maize that produces ethanol. Even the ethanol industry leaders will admit this. So we pollute one sector of our province to grow something that is supposed to help the environment in another. What an outrageous and ridiculous policy!
This is part of the “Green Lie” that government officials have been feeding us for years. They tell us they are helping the environment by producing ethanol, meanwhile they are destroying our waterways to produce that ethanol. But you aren’t supposed to know that; and if you try to report on it, government officials and communications staff outright lie to you about the connection. We are poisoning our drinking water so we can show the rest of the world that we are on-board with the greenhouse emission reductions – meanwhile, the result of this is we can’t drink our well or tap water.
The agri-union will throw their voting power behind the politician – or against the politician, depending on whether they cater to the lobby’s groups (UPA) wishes, such as relaxing environmental laws which result in heftier profit margins for the industry.
At present, it is this agricultural lobbying power which really dictates environmental issues in the province of Quebec and not the Ministry of the Environment. To put it bluntly and as clearly as possible, it is the politicians, from the very topmost levels, to the very lowest levels, that cater to and appease this particular industry, who in turn are given free rein to do as they wish.
Then the industry hides behind these elected officials, who turn a blind eye to this assault on our province. Quebec has become a modern-day banana republic for letting a Maverick industry taint its peoples’ drinking water and get away with hell, while paying lip service to the problem.
However, this same industry tries to shift the blame for their dirty deeds onto the public, blaming the public for polluting its own drinking water, or placing the blame on leaky septic systems. But in fact, the scientific documentation that goes back decades, clearly states that the Quebec agri-industry is the main contributor by a huge margin (responsible for at least 90% of the algae problem in Missisquoi Bay), and all other sources contribute only minor amounts. This documentation is easily found on the Internet.
But regardless of the studies, our elected officials forced numerous communities along our rivers and lakes to install expensive, multi-million-dollar water treatment plants and sewer lines and/or to install new, upgraded septic systems with the promise that, “after you waterfront communities clean up your act, then we’ll go after the agri-industry.”
Well, after all the waterfront communities were hooked-up, guess what happened. The cyanobacteria problem increased! Now we have communities with new sewer systems but a falling and heavily taxed population and the loss of hundreds or perhaps thousands of recreation-based businesses. A visitor to Quebec cannot be faulted if they come to the conclusion that in La Belle Province, people are treated like pigs, and pigs like people?
These sewer installations drove up residents’ taxes so much that many could not afford them and had to move away, or went into debt to pay off the tax increases, this while the pollution got worse. The social effects of pollution on a region can be devastating.
So where did last week’s E-coli threat in Philipsburg originate from? Let’s see! All the towns and villages are hooked-up to modern sewage plants and septic tanks are regularly checked for leakage. So where’s this E-coli coming from? Well two-weeks ago the farmers started saturating their fields with pig and cattle manure. This is a special gift to you from the farming industry.
All common sense has been thrown out the window. Band-aid solutions, which have been the failing of governments, keep happening and getting financed. Study after study after study! How many studies do you need to conduct before you realize you are a bozo and your plan doesn’t work? You can put all the band-aid solutions you want on this problem, but if you don’t monitor and control the source of the run-off, then you are not only a fool, but you are distracting from what really needs to be done, something that the ‘silk ties’ refuse to accept. You have top it at the source Mr. elected official, it is the only way! The government ignorance of this situation is truly embarrassing.
We pay millions for sewer lines and now we have this E-coli threat, on top of the cyanobacteria threat? What is going on here? How can these politicians show their faces in public let alone campaign for us to vote them back in? That is because they think all the public are brain-dead idiots, underlings to be used in the production of the opiate that all politicians aspire to – that being POWER!
We supporters of clean drinking water and a healthy environment for everyone didn’t expect the darkness of this situation to get darker. But it has, and year after year, we lose a little more of our joy of life as we watch something we love, our province, our waterways, die this slow, agonizing death. But the government inaction of not doing anything about it is the cruellest cut, for those caught in the cross-hairs of all the broken promises and financial drain, such as falling property evaluations and families being split apart.
People along the waterways who wish to sell their property, only put the “For Sale” signs up during spring and fall because algae blooms drive potential buyers away in hordes. Who wants to buy a cottage on a chronically polluted lake? So over the years, property values crash and towns can’t offer services for a lack of taxpayer contributions. Philipsburg, where this article is being written from, is now a ghost town – a social wasteland.
Polluted water also drives away the youth from the regions who don’t want to live beside a lake or river they can’t use and can’t find a job except on a manure spreader, because no one wants to visit a tainted lake. So there is the population drain to consider as well, which leaves villages resembling Chernobel, as people move away and businesses close.
Pollution kills business, unless you are involved in the pollution industry, like the fake, propped up, government-financed environmental groups who are part of the problem, and like their bosses, help keep the public misinformed. Even a government funded and formed environment group is not going to bite the hand that feeds it, so there is a major conflict of interest when the government hires their own, hand selected people who tow the party line.
The political party buys the environment group the same way as the industry lobbies the political party. This is where we stand with puppet environment groups, instead of impartial, non partisan, independent voices of reason. So the government controls the message and the groups who bring us this message. They are the judge and jury. We are all left hanging from the gallows while the hangman walks away with bulging pockets.
This kind of abuse happens all the time in the Brome-Missisquoi riding. In fact it did just a couple of months ago when the mayor of Philipsburg contributed $60,000 of resident tax dollars to a wall retention project along the shores of Missisquoi Bay. The project shows the complete contempt this municipal government has for the public, using public funds to pay for this sort of absolutely ridiculous, ‘Profit from Pollution’ projects. Everybody profits, except those who have to pay the bill – the resident. So it isn’t just cyanobacteria we must fear, its also the political pollution we are forced to swallow.
So where is the Ministry of Municipalities who is supposed to protect the public from overzealous mayors who throw our tax dollars to the wind? Quebec taxpayers and Philipsburg residents also contributed to the other $160,000 of the $200,000 cost of this ass of a project).
We the public get screwed everywhere we turn, thanks to bad policy making and small town mayors who let hallucinations of being king cloud the reality of what they were elected to do.
Here in Quebec, instead of helping the victims, as a sober person might expect, these political and industry officials, then turn around and introduced new grants and incentives to the farming community for the clearing of farm margins and ditches, then installing drainage tiles that flush the nutrient-laden farm waters even faster from the fields and into our waterways (a quickly flushed field results in a longer growing season and more cash to the farmer).
As mentioned previously, these margins and borders are the only natural barrier that help impede nutrient and other chemical flow directly from the fields and into our rivers and lakes and inevitably, into our tap water. But they are being removed at an alarming rate.
All common sense has been thrown out the window, and as we speak, there is a mass, province-wide drive to eradicate field margins, which also helps to wipe-out and displace numerous species of birds that help control insect populations, while nesting along these margins.
The threatened Monarch butterfly, for example, uses these margins to find milkweed to grow the next generation of butterflies. So as the margins disappear, so do the Monarchs. Once again, there is no thought towards the environment; the only thought is towards profit and screwing your fellow citizen and his family.
We have fallen from the philosophy of ‘love thy neighbour,’ to a more modern version that states ‘screw thy neighbour.’
Quebec’s hog herd is the biggest in the country at around 4.5-million animals, with annual sales of $2-billion. The industry employs directly or indirectly over 20,000 people. (But it is not only hogs that are a problem. Cattle spread the deadly E-coli virus through its waste distribution and are a major element in the contamination of our waterway).
Canada exports half of the $3-billion total production of hogs to other countries each year, with the United States and Japan being the biggest buyers, followed by Russia.
A pig produces 4 times more solid waste per day than a human. If you total up the raw faecal waste of Quebec’s 4-5 million pigs; in one day they produce as much waste as 16-million humans, which is dumped onto the farmlands, in massive amounts without any sort of treatment.
Over the last 10 years, city dwellers have been complaining about the pig manure smell that has swept through the city and into the nostrils of its citizens as the spraying gets closer to large urban centres like Montreal.
The industry just doesn’t know what to do with all the crap, except dump it wherever it can, and that means right beside our populated areas. The rural areas have already become absolutely saturated with waste and contaminants. We are awash in pig and other animal waste and it is being dumped onto the last place of refuge for much of our wildlife and our drinking water resources.
We must not blame all members of the farming community for this dilemma, as previously mentioned. That would be a travesty, as it is only a very, very small minority who knowingly pollute our waters, but it is this few that taints the majority. Many farmers though, are aware of these dirty farms, and by remaining silent, they shoulder some of the blame. However, it must again be clearly stated that it is these few farmers who soil the reputation of many good people in the farmlands, ranches and barns of our province.
Perhaps that majority of good farmers should start raising their voices against such huge-scale polluting of our beautiful province. Why haven’t they? It’s been decades! Has the greed overcome them as well? Has ‘greed and production at all costs’ become their mantra as much as it is by the industry leaders and political leaders?
I have had farmers tell me to my face that they know they are polluting the waterways but no one stops them, and at the end of the day it means more profits going into their pockets. This is what is called human nature; the darkness of human nature where men lose their souls, their dignity, and their compassion for their fellow human being.
We cannot and must not let this industry police itself, as we cannot allow any industry to remain above the law, particularly when it comes to the protection of all the people – as well as the environment. This form of self-policing just doesn’t make any sort of common sense and the results show this. The exemption of any industry, profession or business from the laws of the land only incites distrust and increasing uncertainty.
In this present situation, one would feel that good, honest governance would step in to speak for all of us. But don’t hold your breath waiting for change or an answer. There is absolutely no willpower on behalf of our elected officials, they are just using us for their gain. We victims are all alone, cocooned in this creeping misery! We can’t walk on water! Let alone drink it!
We all must stop pointing our fingers at someone else, some other province or even some other country, which just plays into the hand of the agri-industry, as they and their lawyer army use these situations as a delay tactic for them to continue polluting or for warping the reality of what is really happening.
Real change will only occur when real democracy takes hold. Until that happens, we are all but serfs to this runaway-industry of pollution and their go-boys, those politicians and community leaders who continue to allow this kind of social disorder to continue.
We Canadians are always willing to raise our voices concerning clear-cutting of rain forests in some far off nation, or climate change, plastics in the oceans and the plight of the polar bear, but we have no voice, or no guts, when it concerns our own backyard; why is this?
One might think we would have learned our lesson about keeping quiet when we were getting stomped-on, but we keep lying down, like lambs, like sheep.
Maybe it’s a Quebec thing? But the problem is also happening in the Great Lakes and elsewhere. Cyanobacteria poisoning is rampant in North America and if something isn’t done about it and soon, we may someday see water riots over access to clean water. When the life blood of the earth becomes more and more polluted or abused, we see situations that can lead to civil disorder and disobedience.
The evidence of what is occurring is all around us, but our elected representatives don’t seem capable of connecting the dots. In a 2007 Environment Canada report, it was stated that of the 16 rivers that were rated across Canada as “poor” or “very poor,” 13 are in Quebec’s farming heartland; with the worst in Canada being the Yamaska River (on the south shore of the St Lawrence River), the second worst in Canada being the Bayonne (on the northern shore, almost directly across from the Yamaska River, in the heartland of our agricultural zone). So what else is there to know? “The proof is the proof is the proof,” as one of our former prime minister once said.
However, this is no closely guarded secret that only a few are privy to. Everybody knows, especially those politicians in positions who can effect change. So what are they doing about it – absolutely nothing but continuing their con game over the public!
This “hear no evil, see no evil, do no evil” attitude that we have had to put up with is a sickness that has overcome and stolen our democratic right to clean drinking water and a clean environment.
In our modern society, we all must realize that there are some sacrifices that must be made for the type of civilization we live in, but not to the extent that big industry is the governing voice of the masses, who decides on how clean our water must be for ingestion, or how clean the lake or bay must be before our children are allowed to swim in its waters.
If big industry owns the politicians, then it is big industry that pulls their strings, (there is a political terminology for this type of relationship, which I will leave to you the reader to uncover).
Now I don’t have all the solutions or all the answers, I am but a small voice in the wilderness of worry, although I have a number of suggestions just as you might.
None of us has the ultimate solution, but together, along with honest political incentive, we can and will find the solution that will be acceptable by all, for what might be the biggest threat to our society since “climate change” and “acid rain” became part of our nomenclature.
This can only work if we all stand together and fight those people, politicians and industries who wish to poison our children, and the environment, for their own personal profit or gain. They must be ousted.
It is time to take down this tyrant Goliath and to force it to abide by the same laws we all must follow, to make it a partner in, and not a ruler of our destiny. But we need the political willpower for that change. Will someone or some political party please stand-up for the rights of all the people?
I doubt it; there is too much money involved and many dirty outstretched hands to fill. With this growing situation, it exposes our dark side; the evil one man can commit against another, be it with a weapon or with a little-understood chemical threat, endorsed by our leaders. I must repeat, there is no honour in politics, at least not in feudal Quebec.
The majority of these profiteers will stab the public in the back for power the first chance they get, so get over the fable that they are your buddies or are looking out for you – they are the elitists! They are only looking out for themselves – so wake up people and shave that woollen fleece off of your backs. It’s time to think for yourselves and take action to protect the future of your children’s children.
This is the present reality and with an upcoming federal election; any voice of sanity will be thrown under the bus once again in the quest for political power; I guarantee it!
Article and Photos (except where mentioned) by Robert J. Galbraith
Freelance Journalist and Missisquoi Bay waterfront resident.
Robert J. Galbraith has lived for over thirty years along the shoreline of Missisquoi Bay, in Philipsburg. An avid fisherman and ornithologist he is also a well respected Canadian journalist and book publisher. He has traveled worldwide from Israel (during the Scud missile attacks), to both Operation Iraqi Freedom and Desert Storm covering these conflicts. He also spent five months in Afghanistan (on two trips) covering the war for the Toronto Star, Canada’s largest circulating newspaper. He was also the Federal Liberal Party photographer during the campaign of Michael Ignatieff and for other party events. He is married with three grown children.
The author is looking for anyone who can help him transcribe this commentary into French and to link or share it with any and all environmental organizations and others who have had enough of the present state of the environmental policy in Quebec. Thank-you!