Decline in civic duty is a discouraging trend

With the New Year comes farm meeting season. Unfortunately, the business meetings for many of the commissions and associations are often poorly attended. In fact, producers show an amazing lack of interest in the organizations they fund and govern.

Quorum requirements differ for annual general meetings, depending on the organization and the province, but sometimes it’s difficult to get even 20 or 25 registered producers in a room so that an AGM can be conducted.

When an election for directors is required and ballots are mailed to producers, voter participation is abysmal — typically 10 percent or less. Most registered producers just won’t take the time to read the candidate biographies and make a choice. Little wonder, then, that they also can’t be bothered to attend an AGM to find out how their check-off money is being invested.

This isn’t only an issue in the grain sector, where a plethora of crop commissions co-exist. The apathy also runs deep in the cattle sector, as demonstrated by the recent plebiscite on the Alberta beef checkoff.

The issue of whether the checkoff should remain refundable has been roundly debated for years, but with 18,000 producers eligible to vote, only 1,874 ballots were actually cast. In the end, 51.3 percent voted to keep the checkoff refundable, a binding decision determined by the small percentage of producers that actually took the time to participate.

This is a general societal trend not unique to agriculture. Voter participation has steadily declined in federal and provincial elections, and it’s often embarrassingly low in municipal elections.

In an era when you can quickly find online answers to almost any question, more people are less informed and less engaged than ever. Individuals can pursue their own specific interests and not pay attention to the wider world.

Within agriculture, the tendency is to attend meetings that catch your interest and influence the farm’s bottom line. The sense of duty to participate in farm organizations is often lacking.

At the meeting on seed royalties held in Saskatoon a few weeks ago, one producer accused the consultation of being done in secret. He had only learned about the issue of royalties on farm-saved seed via a mention on Twitter. Obviously, he hadn’t read farms newspapers or crop commission newsletters.

With the overload of emails and texts and with everyone trying to get your attention and/or sell you something, we’re a society that knows more and more about less and less. And somehow, the sense of civic duty is being lost. Running governments and running organizations is someone else’s problem.

How many people can name their member of Parliament and their MLA? Can you name the leaders of the three main political parties in Ottawa? Do you know who is running the crop commissions investing your check-off money for crops such as wheat, canola and pulses?

If you’re not paying attention and not participating in the discussion, don’t complain later. Disaffected people often take to social media to vent their frustrations, but it’s hard to take anyone seriously if they haven’t taken the time and effort to understand the issues and have some face-to-face conversations.

Informed debate has given way to misinformed sniping. Too many people feel their opinions don’t matter. Truth is that democracy belongs to those who show up. Get involved and you can make a difference.

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