“I don’t know,” I told the security guard at the outside entrance of Parliament in Ottawa when he asked what was in the long narrow case I was carrying. I was grinning because it could resemble something suspicious. I quickly added that it was probably a stand of some sort to display items in the Parliamentary Restaurant where we were having breakfast with MPs.
“Let’s have a look inside,” he said, so I placed it on the table. He unzipped it a little, peeked inside, zipped it up and I was cleared to continue on to the next security check.
This was the 13th annual Hill Lobby Day on Parliament Hill and I was there as a representative of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA). Quebec Farmers’ Association and the Canadian Federation of Agriculture representatives joined us for the day.
You can’t drive up to Parliament Hill anymore. Security has been beefed up since Cpl. Nathan Cirillo was fatally shot at the National War Memorial in 2014 by a gunman who arrived in a stolen car. Now there’s paperwork and vehicle security checkpoints. I’m sure the apparatus we drove onto had very high-tech equipment that scanned the entire vehicle. RCMP security personnel checked the driver’s paperwork, looked in the trunk and glanced inside our vehicle. They were friendly and chatted with us as the inspection took about five minutes.
We were then allowed to drive up to an entrance door, unload our gear and park nearby. The four security guards at the entrance were also pleasant and one man peeked into our cases and we were cleared and onto the next security check: belt, coins, wallet, pens and watch through a screening machine as we walked through a detector. Next stop was another security checkpoint to get temporary passes. At the entrance of the Parliamentary Restaurant, OFA field staff gave us name tags. It felt good to be in the magnificent, historic stone building, commonly referred to as the Centre Block, as a guest for the day even though there were so many security personnel in the hallways.
Key issues for farmers
The Hill Lobby Day provides a great opportunity for farm representatives to bring key messages directly from grassroots members to the federal leaders. Hon. Lawrence MacAulay, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, addressed the gathering and spoke about the importance and value of Canada’s agriculture and agri-food sector. Canadian agri-food exports reached $55 billion in 2015.
The event opened the door for discussions with Members of Parliament about key priorities impacting Canada’s agriculture and agri-food sector, including our role in driving economic growth, investments in infrastructure for transportation, broadband and natural gas distribution, climate change and a national Food Policy.
We (the farm representatives) were pleased that the federal government wants to boost agri-food exports to $75 billion by 2025, as was reported in the budget. The budget mentioned agri-food 29 times and agriculture 14 times. That’s very impressive as the agriculture sector usually gets mentioned in passing on budget day. Finance Minister Morneau identified agri-food as key to boosting the economy.
The remainder of the day was spent in a meeting room where MPs and staff discussed important issues and concerns facing the agriculture and agri-food industry.
I could have gone to Question Period later that afternoon but declined as it meant I would have to go through another RCMP security check – taking the belt off again. I had taken it off three times already! In the morning; for lunch, when I met with an MP at noon in an office building downtown; and to gain entry back into our meeting room in Centre Block.
Next time I’m not wearing a belt. Suspenders maybe?
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