For the Ontario Landowners Association, itís the end of an era.
The recent resignation from the organization of Carleton Placeís Merle Bowes marks the last of four founding members no longer associated with the once headline-grabbing property rights group.
Bowes was one of four frustrated Lanark County residents who cobbled together the precursor of the OLA, the Lanark Landowners Association, almost a decade ago. Through a combination of high profile blockades and other civil disobedience, the association went on to form chapters across much of the province.
Randy Hillier, the first president who went on to become MPP for Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington, turned in his OLA membership last spring. About four years ago, co-founder John Vanderspank pulled out over differences in the direction of the OLA. Brian Hanna, the fourth founder, disappeared from view shortly after the LLA got rolling.
Hillier sent in a letter of resignation last March, something that was discovered by a city daily only a few weeks ago. The story made a big splash.
As did Hillier, Bowes departed the organization because he believes itís placing too much emphasis on land patent grants which he calls "misleading" because it lulls property owners into believing thatís all they need to bypass government regulation and intervention.
Bowes said he couldnít continue "in good conscience" promoting and supporting the land patents policy. While he wishes the OLA well, he emphasized he didnít want to leave quietly without making his point about land patents.While Bowes and Hillier were often in lockstep about the direction of the OLA, Bowes insisted he came to his decision independently after meticulous research into the effectiveness of land patents as property rights protection.
When Hillier quit, current OLA president Tom Black responded with "great sadness", pointing out heíll always hold him in high esteem for "teaching many of us how to protect our rights and freedoms."
However, Black maintained the OLA will continue to defend and promote the cause of individual property rights by all legal and reasonable means: "The Land Patent/Crown Grants are legal contracts still valid in todayís world."
Other OLA heavyweights also see it differently, including Jack MacLaren, a former president who went on to become MPP for Carleton-Mississippi Mills. Although not a founder, MacLaren has been involved for several years; he proudly retains his membership and espouses the land patents policy.
While he has no plans to start a new property rights group or join another one, Bowes said as an individual heíll remain active in the movement until he "takes his last breath."
Bowes will be missed. When others went off in search of greater glory as elected members, the humble man of the people remained dedicated to the activist group he co-founded, keeping his nose to the grindstone in promoting the objectives of the LLA and the OLA.
When Merle Bowes says something is misleading, one tends to believe him.