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    Dans, Dels unite
    By Tom VanDusen - AgriNews Staff Writer

    Dan Harkin came to my door in Russell Easter Monday to fill me in on one of the latest chapters in the rude awakening of rural and agricultural Ontario.

    It's rude because farmers and other rural residents have been - rightly - forgetting their traditional manners lately as they attempt to draw attention to their lamentable financial plight and to the over-regulation threatening their way of life.

    They're getting downright militant... and I'm not just talking about core adherents of the Lanark Landowners Association.

    I'm talking about moderate middle-aged guys like Winchester farmer Harkin, a long-time OFA supporter who's not a member of any LLA chapter... although he was going to meet LLA president Randy Hillier at a nearby restaurant later that same day.

    Another one of these moderate guys now feeling fire in his belly is Renfrew County's Del O'Brien, a lawyer, businessman and export hay farmer who talks about a "misguided assault" on rural Ontario residents.

    With other groups and individuals, O'Brien - also not a member of any LLA chapter - has founded the Renfrew Coordinating Committee for Rural Action and is now finalizing a brief to be presented to political leaders.

    It's an attempt, O'Brien explains, to unify into one strong voice the many organizations representing rural and agricultural interests in the county.

    Rural property owners aren't revolutionaries by nature, O'Brien says. They're conservative. However, while enduring historic economic hardships, they've gained the additional "horrific cost" of clean water protection and other environmental change imposed by a "crusading urban government."

    "It appears rural people and rural land are to be exploited to serve the interest of cities."

    This is what the so-called Rural Revolution is really all about and it's why government leaders should be getting nervous: The slow-fused Dan Harkins and Del O'Briens of the province are putting down their pitchforks and picking up placards.

    Like so many others, Harkin has had it up to here with provincial governments who don't show farming enough respect and support, and with farm lobbyists who don't have enough fight in them.

    "We've been playing lob ball. Now it's time for hardball," says Harkin as he sits in my home office telling me about a plan he helped formulate calling on farmers and agri-businesses to withhold municipal taxes in 2006 if need be as a means of applying pressure to the province.

    OFA central command has endorsed the tax plan. It has been getting the message loud and clear from several raucous rallies, including one in Finch March 22, that average members like Harkin will no longer accept polite diplomacy and everlasting negotiations.

    For the time being, Harkin has suspended his campaign to convince Eastern Ontario farmers to cancel their OFA memberships until the federation makes good on a promise to put in place a commodity price support program similar to what exists in Quebec.

    The operative word is "suspended", Harkin emphasizes, not "cancelled", pending the OFA's capability of responding to the latest demands for greater aggressiveness from the membership.

    O'Brien plans to fight the "persistent urban mythology" that rural dwellers are highly subsidized when, in fact, most supply their own drinking water, sewage disposal and transportation. In fact, most rural tax dollars flow automatically to the cities to help fund massive infrastructure and urban transit.

    As an example of the callous disregard with which the province is treating rural Ontario, O'Brien cites cancellation of drainage grants which had been in place for more than a century. To its credit, the government has since reinstated the program... but only after the outcry made it clear serious political damage would result.

    It's this type of approach which prompts O'Brien to refer to an "underclass community" developing in rural Ontario, a community which no longer has the buying power to, for example, support a scheduled airline like Pembroke's now defunct Pem-Air which O'Brien founded 32 years ago.

    "Where's the justice? The direction is simply wrong and we must fight to reverse it."

    Politicians beware! The Dans and the Dels are uniting!

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    Eastern Ontario AgriNews is published on the third Monday of each month. The printed version is distributed free by postal mail to farms in Eastern Ontario, Canada.

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