Dairy farmers take trade protest to Parliament Hill with cow and tractors in tow

Quebec and Ontario dairy farmers returned to Parliament Hill with their tractors and a cow this morning, snarling Ottawa traffic in another rally demanding stricter controls on cross-border trade and compensation for international agreements they say have left them at a disadvantage.

Farmers want tighter border controls, compensation for trade agreements

Dairy farmer Chris Ryan unhitches a hay-lined covered trailer on Wellington Street and releases his cow Ninja under the shadow of Parliament Hill.

The St. Isidore, Ont., farmer was one of dozens that took part in an eastern Ontario tractor parade to downtown Ottawa this morning, as dozens more made their way from Montebello, Que., in an ongoing protest for stricter controls on cross-border trade and compensation for international agreements dairy farmers say have left them at a disadvantage.

In particular, farmers called for an end to diafiltered milk — a powdered protein product that enters Canada tariff-free from the United States because it is not considered to be real milk.

Hundreds of farmers rallied on Parliament Hill on Thursday afternoon, Many came in tractors from eastern Ontario and Quebec. (Chloé Fedio/CBC)

"To Justin Trudeau: Put on your boxing gloves and defend us from the U.S.A. and support your Canadian farmers," Ryan said. 

Many farmers chanted, "forts et unis" (strong and united), as others held signs that read, "Stop creaming us." Hundreds wore matching blue T-shirts that read, "Canadian milk matters."

A group of farmers performed street theatre, some dumping powdered protein into buckets and mixing it as another begged them to stop on his knees.

About 2,000 people from Quebec and 1,000 from eastern Ontario travelled to Parliament Hill for the protest, according to Dairy Farmers Canada.

A similar protest that saw cows and tractors crowd downtown Ottawa streets in September 2015.

This time, Ninja was the lone cow on Wellington Street.

"When she came out, she liked to jump around," Ryan said of the name as people lined up for a photo with the cow.

The eastern Ontario convoy, which also included milk trucks, made its way from Vankleek Hill, Ont., on Wednesday morning, reaching Parliament Hill via Bank Street around noon.

Another convoy of dairy farmers from Quebec passed though Montreal on Wednesday en route to Montebello.

The Quebec convoy left Montebello early this morning, making its way to Jacques-Cartier Park in Gatineau before joining the Ontario farmers on Parliament Hill.

The former Conservative government negotiated a $4.3-billion deal with Canadian farm groups before the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement was announced last October but it was not approved by the Treasury Board before the election that brought in a new Liberal government. 

The compensation package was meant to mitigate not just the TPP, but also the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA).

St. Albert dairy farmer Jasmin Benoit said ahead of the rally on Wednesday that the government must "mitigate and compensate" farmers as the TPP and CETA agreements threaten their livelihoods at a time when they're already losing out on investments.

"The government is well aware of these issues," Benoit said, adding he is losing about $5,000 per month.

The uncertainty in the industry has made farmers more cautious when considering investments, Benoit said.

See a recap of rally here.