NFU national office addresses provincial friction, fiscal issues

RIDGETOWN, Ont. — The National Farmers Union is addressing its financial issues, says the president of the organization’s Ontario branch.

“Things are actually doing pretty good at the NFU nationally,” Emery Huszka told the recent annual meeting of Local 306 in Elgin County.

Huszka was responding to comments made by Don Ciparis, Local 306 president and a member of the national executive since September, who said that while national president Jan Slomp has been strong on policy, the NFU has been struggling financially at the national level.

Tony Straathof, president of NFU Local 330 in Eastern Ontario, ran against Slomp at the NFU’s national convention last November but failed to unseat the incumbent president, Ciparis said.

He described Straathof as being strong in the area of fiscal management.

The NFU’s fortunes in Ontario have an influence on the financing of the national office.

Huszka said the Ontario branch has about 1,600 members after three consecutive years of growth. That’s up from around 1,000 members in 2013, which is the year NFU-Ontario lost its accreditation under the Ontario Farm Business Registration and Farm Organizations Funding Act.

The Ontario legislation requires farm businesses with an annual income of $7,000 to submit a registration fee of $195 to one of three accredited general farm organizations in the province. With 1,600 members, that adds up to $312,000, of which close to half goes to the national office.

However, NFU membership in Ontario is down from more than 2,400 farm businesses that were part of the organization before the NFU temporarily lost its accreditation.

Slomp, speaking from his home in Courtney, B.C., said it’s been a challenge to maintain a united front within the NFU, given the differences in how the organization is funded across Canada.

“We have two kinds of NFU members: NFU members and members who are members of NFU-Ontario,” he said. “It’s a time bomb under the national organization because you create friction.”

In Ontario, more than 50 percent of membership fees must be left to the provincial organization. In Western Canada, membership fees go to the national office.

There’s a different structure in Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick.

Slomp said there is recognition in Ontario of the concern. In addition to paying their farm registration fee, some NFU members make an additional donation to the national office. He said that under the NFU structure, NFU regions such as Ontario are not supposed to be overly influential. Rather, it’s the locals that are to be the driving force behind the organization.

“If you make the regions too powerful, you diminish the national and the locals,” he said. “What’s important is that we have people in Ontario who are properly informed.”

Slomp wouldn’t talk about overall NFU membership numbers. However, he said that while numbers have grown in Ontario, there are more NFU members in the rest of Canada.

The NFU has introduced a five-year strategy to boost members across Western Canada and hopefully fund regional staff, Slomp said.

The organization continues to stress the importance of farmers and rural communities over the promotion of trade that benefits international corporations. He also questions the ongoing emphasis on maximizing production at the expense of farmgate profitability and the environment.

In Ontario, members of the organic farming community and younger farmers have embraced the NFU.

“The youth are farming’s future, and if we don’t prioritize strong rural communities and economically and environmentally sustainable farms, there will be nothing left for the next generation,” Huszka said.

“I made a commitment when I took on the role last year to pursue membership as part of the NFU-O’s economic sustainability, and I am pleased that the NFU-O continues to grow in size.”

Members approved a resolution to increase NFU-O’s membership fee from $225, plus applicable taxes, to $240 for 2018 and $255 by 2022. The Ontario government will need to agree.

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