Going into election, rural Quebecers say they’re feeling the effects of climate change

Farmer Jérémie Letellier has already started adjusting for climate change on the family farm.

He has noticed changing weather patterns. The rainstorms are more intense. His plants haven’t been seriously damaged yet — but he knows farmers who have lost portions of their crops in storms.

His farm south of Montreal has adapted. He’s started growing more corn and soybean because wheat doesn’t respond as well to heat and humidity.

He also added drains to his fields to help prepare for heavy rains.

But what worries him most is not knowing how climate change will affect his ability to make a profit. The looming threat concerns him.

“We know we’re the custodians of the soil. We want to transfer it to our children,” he said.

“What will be the impact on our capacity to be profitable on the farm? We still don’t know.”

His farm is almost 60 years old, and if his sons want to take it over, he hopes that’s an option.

Climate as an election issue

Fighting climate change is expected to be one of the biggest election issues in Quebec, and according to researchers at the Université de Montréal, it is as significant an issue in some rural areas as it is in cities.

Political science professor Erick Lachapelle is part of a team that has tracked polling data on climate change for almost a decade.

Maps they built show, on average, Quebecers are more concerned about climate change than people in other parts of the country — and those in some rural parts of Quebec are among the most concerned.

In Letellier’s federal riding, 91 per cent of residents believe climate change is a threat. More than half of respondents believe it will harm them personally.

There are similar results in other agriculture-heavy federal ridings in the province, including parts of the Eastern Townships, the Laurentians and the Gaspésie.

According to Lachapelle’s data, on average, 83 per cent of Canadians believe the Earth is warming. The data shows more Quebecers believe in climate change and believe it is likely to affect their lives.

“Quebec really stands apart from much of the rest of the country,” said Lachapelle.

Serious flooding ‘galvanized public opinion’

He believes Quebec might feel so strongly about climate change because of serious flooding in the province in 2017 and 2019.

“I think [the flooding] really kind of galvanized public opinion and got people thinking that, you know, what climate change is is not something that’s in the distant future. It’s something that’s happening here and now,” he said.

Jason Erskine, a dairy farmer in Hinchinbrooke, Que., said his geographic location — midway between the Adirondack mountains and Lac Saint-Louis — have shielded him from major weather events like flooding. Despite that, he’s noticed weather patterns changing.

“Mother Nature always works with the extremes … but it does seem that the extremes are a little more extreme than they were before,” Erskine said.

Farming more ecologically

Erskine, Letellier and other local farmers say climate change is a political issue for them. They have all taken steps to mitigate their carbon footprint.

In Ormstown, Steve Lalonde farms poultry, popcorn and grain. He’s been an organic farmer for nearly 20 years.

He purchased a new, more efficient tractor this year. It cost as much as his house, he says — around $250,000. He would like to see political parties propose tax breaks for farmers who make strides to go greener.

Both Lalonde and Erskine would like to see fewer single-use plastics used by farmers. Lalonde says seed bags are single-use plastics, and while he tries to re-use them, he wishes it were possible to recycle them.

And Lalonde is also calling on government to help organic farmers by investing in more research and seed development on a federal level.

He’s paying attention to promises made on the campaign trail, but after 20 years of listening to politicians, he said he’s skeptical.

“Lots of times governments come out with programs, saying, you know we’re gonna help the farmers,” he said.

But that help doesn’t always materialize once parties form government.

But will it translate to votes?

Lachapelle believes environment will play a larger role in this election than it has in the past.

He says people usually have a portfolio of issues in their minds when they walk into a polling booth, and while environment may be one of the issues on their minds, they will balance it with their other priorities.

But which party will benefit? Lachapelle says it’s too soon to know.

“Right now it’s difficult to say. I don’t have the data that gives us the answer in terms of who owns the environmental issue right now in the minds of Quebec voters.”

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