MONTREAL — Half a dozen tractors rolled through the streets of downtown Montreal on Sunday as thousands of people marched in support of farmers who say they're threatened by the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement.
Many in the crowd brandished signs and kitchen utensils and pushed shopping carts as they joined an hour-long march organized by Quebec's farmers' union.
The union, known by its French language acronym UPA, says Canada made "unprecedented" concessions in the dairy sector during negotiations for the USMCA deal.
President Marcel Groleau argued that producers in Quebec have to pay higher wages and meet higher environmental standards than those in the United States and Mexico.
He called on the Quebec and federal governments to support local products and make sure any new imports have to meet the same standards Quebec producers are bound by.
"The security of a nation depends first and foremost on its ability to feed itself," he said.
Canadian dairy farmers stand to lose 3.59 per cent of their market to U.S. producers under the new trade deal, although the federal government has promised to compensate producers for their expected losses.
The marchers, many of whom were bussed in from all over Quebec, stretched over several city blocks as they wound their way through Montreal's downtown.
They later filled a public square in the city's entertainment district, where booths were set up to hand out Quebec food products including apples and hot chocolate.
Monia Grenier, a dairy producer and union representative from the Estrie region, said Sunday's event was not a protest, but an appeal for solidarity.
While she was disappointed with the Trudeau government's concessions on dairy, she said she understands there's likely no going back.
"Protesting and making noise isn't good anymore — it's about educating people the right way," she said.
The union has been appealing directly to consumers, urging them to reject the new imports and support local producers.
"What we want is for people to stand with us and buy local, buy Quebec products as much as possible," Grenier said.
It was a message that hit home with Rob Nadeau, who drove in from nearby Saint-Bruno-de-Montarville to attend the event.
Nadeau said he's not opposed to the free trade deal, but would like to see products clearly labelled and foreign producers who import to Canada made to "meet the same standards as our guys."
While he's just a consumer, he said it's in everyone's best interests to advocate for their farmers.
"I think it's important for everybody in Canada — and if (a protest) happened in Ontario I'd go do it there too," he said.
Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press