By JIM MERRIAM, Sudbury Star
When it came to government relations, Ontario’s largest farm organization, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA), often seemed to adopt the philosophy “go along to get along.” Certainly, at times, the OFA found itself in conflict with the provincial government, but it was civil conflict. One example involved the introduction of the Clean Water Act in 2006.
“Ontario farmers saw mixed blessings in the proclamation of Ontario’s Clean Water Act … they saw elements of the act that would protect agriculture from a repeat of anything like the Walkerton drinking water disaster, but were anxious about the government’s failure to fund the improvements required of agriculture. OFA encouraged farmers to become involved in the Source Protection Committees as a means of protecting agriculture’s interests.”
In other words, don’t be trapped on the outside looking in. Work within the system. Another example further illustrates the organization’s tactics.
“Early in 2007, OFA participated in the Premier’s Summit on Agri-Food and gave its full support to the vision of growth and innovation for the industry that emerged as the key focus.”
With this hail-fellow-well-met approach to politicians and government, the OFA has accomplished a lot of incremental improvements for agriculture, but they have been evolutionary rather than revolutionary.
So, shock waves must have rippled through that tiny corner of Queen’s Park that still cares about rural Ontario when the federation took a new stand on wind turbine developments. Here’s some of the language from the OFA statement: “The situation regarding Industrial Wind Turbines (IWT) has become untenable. The proliferation of wind turbines across rural Ontario has seriously polarized our rural communities.
“Residents not engaged in turbine developments have been pitted against neighbours, over concerns with health impacts and quality of life issues. IWT development currently preoccupies the rural agenda.”
No kidding. The federation goes on to say, “wind power is a costly means of generation as its output is most often sold at a loss on export markets.” The OFA made a number of recommendations to the province, including many that wind turbine opponents have been making for months.
Although late to the table, one recommendation said, “rural residents’ health and nuisance complaints must be immediately and fairly addressed.”
That’s a sea change for an organization that wears its political connections as a badge of honour, proud of being “very involved during and after (election) campaigns.”
Besides a big step out of character, the OFA position also is a reversal of previous policy. Back in ’07, the 38,000-member organization seemed to welcome wind turbines. A report of the time says, “with the guidance of OFA, Ontario agriculture s move into the production of energy — growing numbers of wind turbines on farms for the production of electric energy …”
That’s back in the day when Queen’s Park was touting wind turbines as another revenue stream to help farmers.
The OFA, established in 1936, boasts on its website that for 75 years it “has been a leader in results-based advocacy and lobbying to work toward a sustainable future for farmers.”
I wonder if that traditionally friendly voice will have any impact on the debate about wind turbines that is tearing up rural Ontario.