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MRAC Board Faces Criticism

Allegations that a former member of the Manitoba Rural Adaptation Council’s board was ousted because of her affiliations to the organic sector and the National Farmers Union are unfounded, the outgoing board chair says.

Lenore-area farmer Barry Routledge said it was democracy in action that resulted in Kate Storey’s failure to be re-elected at last week’s annual meeting. “We’re a non-political board,” he said. “We’re getting framed into a corner that is very unjust.”

Not so, says Storey, an organic farmer from Grandview who serves on the NFU Women’s Advisory Committee. “There was a collective effort to get rid of me.”

Storey said she was informed by the MRAC nominating committee that her name would be crossed from the list submitted to the membership for ratification.

A group of supporters present at the meeting tried to renominate Storey, a one-term director, from the floor, but their motion was defeated by a large majority.

“There was some dealing going on there,” Storey said. “The reason was because they found out that I am a National Farmer’s Union person, and apparently, the NFU is not welcome in these circles.”

ADVANCE NOTICE

NFU members also allege that a notice posted on the MRAC website announcing that registrations for new members would have to be received by March 12 was aimed at frustrating their bid to re-elect Storey.

In an email circulated before the meeting by the Manitoba Organic Alliance, organic stakeholders were urged to pay the $45 fee before the deadline and join in order to gain the right to elect directors who support organic practices and therefore have greater influence in how MRAC’s $9.5 million in funding is allocated.

But on March 18, the day of the AGM, registration of new members and fees were being accepted at the door. NFU regional co-ordinator Fred Tait was one of the members to join that day.

Tait said that he believed a “major shift” had occurred in MRAC at the meeting with the rejection of “strong” organic voices such as Storey and Canadian Wheat Board organic grain marketer Donna Youngdahl, and a change in the bylaws that would allow corporate representatives to serve as directors on the board.

CORPORATE MEMBERS

The change effectively means that MRAC should be renamed the “Corporate Adaptation Council,” he said.

“Suppose that we have directors representing CN and CP (Rail) and three grain companies. Would one think it possible that those five might have a common interest at times?” said Tait.

Routledge said claims that the council had changed membership rules at the last minute in a bid to shut out the organic sector were “absolutely false,” noting that MRAC had approved funding for over 20 organic-oriented projects over the years.

The notice requiring registration and payment one week in advance was aimed at determining venue size and how many meals would be served, he said.

“I am a little upset that we have some extreme elements here trying to make an issue that does not belong at this annual meeting,” said Routledge.

“We are interested in projects that will move agriculture forward. We are keenly involved with youth out there trying to make a viable rural economy. Our youth want to see neighbours, they want to see yard lights.”

CONTROLLED MEMBERSHIP

The bylaw changes would actually restrict the influence of corporations, he added.

“Before they could be members, but they would register as individuals. Now, a corporation will only have one vote,” said Routledge.

Routledge also said having two organic-oriented directors on the board

would be “doubling up.” Jonathan Bouw, 30, who runs

an organic grain and conventional cattle operation near Dugald, was re-elected as an MRAC director for another three-year term.

“As an organic farmer, I always question big science and corporate stuff,” he said.

Although the election results would leave him the only organic farmer left on the board of directors, he said that MRAC’s track record of support for organic research projects speaks for itself.

daniel. winters @fbcpublishing.com

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