Bob Douglas, one of Manitoba’s pre-eminent farm champions, died Oct. 6 at the age of 80.
“I think Bob is one of those unsung heroes that farmers just heard his name but didn’t know what he committed to them,” Earl Geddes, a former Keystone Agricultural Producers’ president, said in an interview Monday.
“I’ve got nothing but positive praise for Bob and the work that he did,” said Geddes, who is now executive director of the Canadian International Grains Institute.
“Bob was a tireless advocate for agriculture and agriculture producers,” said Mac McCorquodale, who worked with Douglas for many years. “He was a farm boy at heart and he was constantly working for the betterment of things in agriculture. He was constantly puzzled why people didn’t see things as clearly as he did.”
Douglas, who in 2004 was inducted into the Manitoba Agricultural Hall of Fame, grew up on a farm at Minnedosa where he was active in 4-H.
Douglas started off his 50-year career in agriculture as youth director for the now-defunct Manitoba Federation of Agriculture and Co-operation (MFAC) in 1956 — the same year he married Shelagh Sutherland. The job entailed running Camp Wannakumbac at Clear Lake.
“Many Manitoba youth benefited from this camping experience under Bob’s guidance and went on to become leaders themselves in their respective areas,” says the Hall of Fame citation.
Douglas eventually became executive secretary of the MFAC. He helped create the Manitoba Farm Bureau in 1965, an umbrella farm organization made up of Manitoba farm commodity groups. He served as its secretary manager until its demise in 1984 brought on by the fractious Crow Rate debate.
Douglas then played a key role in the formation of the Keystone Agricultural Producers — Manitoba’s largest general farm organization and member of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture. He was KAP’s general manager until 1993.
“Bob worked all of his career trying to improve the conditions of farmers and farm families,” said Murray Cormack, a former general manager of Manitoba Pool Elevators and former provincial deputy minister of agriculture. “He focused on that all the time.”
During his KAP tenure the organization gained a reputation for doing its homework and being able to influence provincial and farm policies, Geddes said.
Active role at CGC
In 2006 Douglas was appointed an assistant commissioner with the Canadian Grain Commission, and took the role seriously, said Cormack.
“Bob wanted to ensure farmers were protected under the provisions of the (Canada) grain act…” Cormack said. “He believed in seeing that the rules were followed, particularly where farmers might be left high and dry if there was an operator who was at risk of getting into difficulty.”
Geddes, who at the time was senior manager with the Canadian Wheat Board, said Douglas informed him of some of the problems he uncovered.
“He was a true champion in that role,” Geddes said. “He got significant criticism from the (Canadian Grain) commissioners and from the industry for trying to expose some of the stuff that was kind of commonplace in the industry.
“Everybody knew when he went to an elevator he was there because the Canada Grain Act was there to protect farmers. And he lived that every day on the job.”
Douglas often complained the grain commission failed to enforce its own regulations by not making some grain dealers become licensed elevators. Under the grain act farmers are better protected when dealing with licensed elevators.
Sometimes Douglas was able to mediate disputes between farmers and elevator agents just by making a phone call or visiting the elevator.
“He was very analytical about looking at circumstances and deciding what should happen and how they should turn out,” McCorquodale said. “He was a strategist. He was a man with not only a lot of vision but a lot of courage.”
Douglas also played an active role in urban politics, and was elected to four consecutive terms on Winnipeg city council from 1982 to 1992.
He was also a mover and shaker in the Manitoba back rooms of the Liberal Party of Canada.