| Aug 04, 2005

Feature article, August 4, 2005

Feature article August 4, 2005

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Sparks fly over Lanark Landowners article

by Jeff Green

In the July/August issue of Toronto-based This Magazine, there is an article by Ompahs Helen Forsey, a writer, researcher and activist on environmental, feminist, and rural issues. Entitled Betting the Farm, the article is about the Lanark Landowners Association and its President, Randy Hillier.

While Helen Forsey makes it clear in the article that she is sympathetic to the concerns expressed by the Lanark Landowners as far as ham-fisted government regulations are concerned, she argues that they take a simplistic approach to the complicated problems facing rural Ontarians by focussing on property rights, and she is highly critical of Randy Hilliers leadership style.


A demagogic landowner leadership is gathering a litany of rural grievances, laying the blame on urban politicians and environmentalists, and reducing the whole thing to a simplistic demand for entrenched private property rights and the exit of government from the rural stage, Forsey writes early in the article.

Later, she writes about Hillier himself.

The most visible part of the package is LLA president Randy Hillier. The 47-year-old electricians good-ol-boy style, complete with catchy one-liners, barnyard allusions and barbecue invitations, seems to validate the down-to-earth rural culture and the ordinary people he claims to represent.

Randy Hillier was not interviewed for the article, but LLA cofounder and Vice-President, organic farmer Merle Bowes, is quoted extensively.

Bowes has been dealing with government bureaucracy for years - with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources over nuisance deer; the Ontario Ministry of the Environment over the Nutrient Management Act and his manure pile; his own municipality over a buffer Zone that was imposed on his property for a potential gravel pit, and even the Federal Ministry of Fisheries and Oceans, who took an interest in a drainage ditch on his property because there were minnows in it.

We had to do something, Bowes is quoted as saying. We dont have rights on our own property. The established farm organizations werent fighting, at least they werent fighting hard enough.

Later in the 5,000-word article Helen Forsey mentioned something she called thug appeal at some of the Lanark Landowners Rallies, also pointing to the time the LLA dubbed a dead deer with the name Leona and emailed the photo to Minster of the Environment Leona Dombrowsky. That act brought about a fair bit of publicity this past spring. The fact that Leona Dombrowsky, a female Minister in the McGuinty government, was targeted, is significant, according to Helen Forsey.

Hillier knew very well, and repeated in his press release, that Dombrowskys Environment Ministry isnt in charge of deer policy at all; its the Ministry of Natural Resources. That's headed up by a man, Dave Ramsay, but was the dead deer dubbed "Dave"? No way. In fact, while Dombrowsky got the gory photos, Ramsay and two other male politicians were "welcomed and invited" in the same press release "to join their constituents to discuss the severe problems, learn of our resolve, and correct the injustice they are imposing on their rural constituents."

Forseys article has sparked an angry response from Bob Fowler, the Secretary of the Ontario Property and Environmental Alliance (OPERA), an Ontario-wide network of member organizations, which operates under the following credo: Protect, and entrench in law, the rights, and responsibilities of private landowners against arbitrary restrictions and decisions of government.

In an open letter, Fowler wrote the following about Helen Forseys article: This rambling indictment covers the usual litany of grievances to which left leaning social engineers devote so much time and attention.

Fowlers disdain for Helen Forsey is demonstrated by his refusal to name her, calling her only a self styled freelance writer.

Bob Fowler states that OPERA, as an umbrella organization, does not encourage or condemn the activities of its associate members, but he also writes that the Lanark Landowners Association has created more public demand for government accountability and ignited more public sympathy for rural landowners victimised by lack of rights than any other contemporary group anywhere in Canada.

Interestingly enough, Bob Fowler and Helen Forsey agree on two important points: rural Ontario is in trouble and government actions have been making matters worse instead of better. They also agree that the LLA has brought these matters to the fore in a way that hasnt been seen for many years.

They disagree on the role Randy Hillier plays and on the issue of property rights.

Helen Forsey argues vehemently that the tack the Lanark Landowners take in focussing on property rights is wrongheaded. She prefers the analysis provided by the National Farmers Union, which puts more of a focus on the impact of globalization on farming, and on prices paid to farmers for the food they produce.

She points to the reduction of the number of farms, 11% between 1996 and 2001, and to the fact that 80% of farmers are now supported at least in part from off-farm income.

She quotes a Picton Farmer, Ken Marisett, who says, With many farm-gate prices at all time lows, many farmers cant afford their own costs of production, let alone the costs involved in environmental stewardship. Lets organise to change that, not go off on a wild goose chase after property rights.

Meanwhile the Lanark Landowners Association, after a bit of a hiatus, at least in terms of public events, is back in the public eye. Last week, they pronounced the establishment of the Carleton County Landowners Association, an organization that will endeavour to recreate Carleton County, which was eliminated through amalgamation.

In August the LLA travels to Southwestern Ontario, celebrating the establishment of Landowners Associations in Grey-Bruce, Norfolk-Exeter-Elgin. They will be promoting their cause in Halton-Peel and Chatham-Kent as well, before participating in a rally on Manitoulin Island.

In their characteristically provocative style, the LLA makes a sweeping claim in describing their next wave of activity

As the summer draws to an end the LLA and the Rural Revolution is prepared for a new campaign against unaccountable- and corrupt governments. These urban politicians and incompetent bureaucracies who seek to destroy our rural heritage, culture and economy through arbitrary and unjust legislation and regulations are our targets. The rural revolution will tighten the noose and punch back with much greater weight, and not stop until corrupt governments end their legalized theft, and a new rural province is created, reads their latest press statement.

It is this flamboyant, defiant rhetoric that makes the Lanark Landowners so compelling for Bob Fowler of OPERA, and so worrying for analysts like Helen Forsey.

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