NFU’s flirtation with Idle No More borders on ‘disdain and irrelevancy’

A recent news release from the National Farmers Union (NFU) came as something of surprise

A recent news release from the National Farmers Union (NFU) came as something of surprise, but in retrospect probably should have been expected. The release proclaimed that the NFU was “… proud to declare its solidarity with Idle No More ….”

I expect most readers of that pronouncement probably wondered what a farm organization had in common with a protest group whose goals are obscure at best. But I guess the NFU could not resist supporting any cause that heaped abuse on its political enemy — the ruling Conservative federal government.

First some transparency: in my far distant youth as a rancher in the B.C. Peace River district, I was for a few years a card-carrying member of the NFU. In my recollection of those past times, I would be surprised if my fellow local members would have looked favourably on the NFU supporting this dubious ragtag group. But times change, though common sense does not.

I can only surmise that the NFU was being politically expedient in expressing its solidarity with the Idle No More (INM) movement, being their connection is quite spurious. The NFU perspective tied in their position on the demise of the Canadian Wheat Board, seed grower rights and changes to the Canadian Grain Commission to the hazy philosophy of the INM movement. I would doubt seriously if a single INM participant would have the slightest clue what the NFU was talking about.

Certainly none of them have anything to do with treaty rights. But I guess for the NFU, it’s all about political opportunity.

It gets more absurd, of course. The NFU then tries to tie-in recent trade negotiations as an affront to democracy, as First Nations and Canadians were excluded from the process. That’s always the standard tedious position of any protest group.

Here’s a bit of news to the gullible: Canadian voters decide at elections who is to represent them at such discussions — that’s a concept that always annoys those that are on the losing side of those elections.

The NFU did manage to get the support of one of the founding mothers of INM, who stated that the NFU was part of an essential alliance of those who want healthy land, food and water.

Be that as it may, I suspect the goals of the INM movement would defer considerably from those that are involved in today’s productive commercial agriculture industry.

In fact, history would indicate quite the opposite, being agricultural development played a massive role in destroying the nomadic lifestyle of the First Nations culture.

I would suggest that the NFU brain-trust has perhaps over-thought this whole matter as to any possible political gain. It seems to me that most folks in agriculture would see the NFU support of what is turning out to be a nuisance group in a much more negative light, perhaps even by some of its own more moderate members.

That won’t do the NFU much good as it struggles with a stagnant membership. One expects activist left-wing positions from the NFU, but they may just have gone too far with this off- the-wall issue.

I suggest that most farmers and ranchers share the general taxpayer view that the INM approach will cost them a lot more money for some pretty obscure goals. That perspective may end up sticking to the NFU — it’s not something that will help scare up new members.

But I expect the NFU will soldier on despite any negative consequences from this position. They have always held their principles important.

They continue to have some support from the agricultural community, and they are still given some credence by their leftist brethren. NDP and Liberal politicians usually give them some homage, though when in power at the provincial and federal levels, those same politicians treat the NFU with a sort of benign neglect.

The CBC on occasion seeks out their opinion on ag or food issues of the day, though even that is becoming rare as even left-wing media folks come to the realization that the NFU is a rather small group.

Having said all that, there is a place for the NFU in the diverse world of ag politics, but perhaps this flirtation with the Idle No More movement would indicate that they are in need of better political advice.

There would seem to be nothing to be gained for them with this issue, except disdain and irrelevancy — both of which can be deadly for any organization.

Will Verboven is the editor of Alberta Farmer.