Following the official presentation of the National Farmers Union Family Bonspiel Master Trophy to Warburg Curling Club on March 16, Pipestone Flyer spoke with one of the presenters, Andrew Belozer.
Before retiring, octogenarian Andrew Belozer farmed in the Calmar area. He also was instrumental in organizing local NFU charters in Wetaskiwin, Calmar, Warburg and Rocky Mountain House and non-charters in Carnwood, Hoadley, Caroline, Rimbey and Bluffton.
Frustrated in their dealings with the federal government and realizing that policy decisions were being made at the federal level, provincial farm unions in Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia, along with farmers from the Maritimes merged to form the National Farmers Union in 1969. It is the only farm organization incorporated through an Act of Parliament.
Belozer recalls in the early ’70s, when pig prices were low. 100 farmers decided to demand a better price and call attention to their plight.
“We loaded a pig into a half-ton and drove down Jasper Avenue to the Provincial Legislature. The farmer backed up and unloaded the pig onto the Legislature steps while the rest of us formed a human “pen” around it. We stayed there for about ten minutes—enough time for pictures and to talk to the media.” What results came of this? “Really, nothing.”
Undeterred, in 1975, under RCMP escort, 200 people demonstrated on the Highway 63—AKA “Syncrude Highway.” Demonstrations escalated to over 20 highway locations.
“From Grassland to Wandering River, we protested with farm tractors and farm trucks,” recalled Belozer. “We slowed down traffic to draw attention to the crisis farmers faced because the big provincial grants were going to Syncrude.”
The demonstration culminated in a mass meeting of 1,000, who pitched tents on the Alberta Legislature grounds to focus attention on the beef producers' crisis.
This yielded a better result, according to Belozer. “Two years after we set up the tents, the County of Leduc received a $280 thousand grant. County beef producers who registered received a subsidy.” Belozer doesn’t recall if farmers in the County of Wetaskiwin received a subsidy.
“We also helped farmers in other provinces too. When potato farmers in PEI, New Brunswick and the Maritimes had an issue with McCain, we all boycotted McCain. When dairy farmers in Ontario had an issue with Kraft Corporation, we boycotted Kraft across Canada.”
In 1981, nearly 200 farmers from across Canada met with in Ottawa to lobby MPs to preserve the Crow Benefit (Canada’s Western Grain Transportation Act which subsidized transportation costs for farmers shipping wheat).
“We were arranged into groups of four to meet with ministers and other members of parliament. In my group, there were two farmers from Ontario and one from the Maritimes. We visited an MP from Gaspe Peninsula, Quebec.
“I thought I’d talk to him about the Crow rate issue. He said, ‘You come to Ottawa to save the bird that flies?’ I said, ‘No, no, no. Not the bird that flies. This is the Crow Rate agreement that John A. McDonald had with CPR to export grain…. We spent a week in Ottawa on the ‘Crow Train.’”
Although the Crow Benefit ultimately was lost,
years of struggle by the NFU prior to 1995 had held the Crow Rate and Benefit in place for a decade and a half, putting more than $10 billion into farmers’ pockets.
Not all NFU stories are of an adversarial nature though. Belozer fondly remembers the cooperative efforts of Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed, describing him as a friend to farmers. “Near the end of his premiership, he’d always give us a day in June. He’d call us to a special meeting with him and Caucus in Alberta House. The NFU regional president and district directors would spend an afternoon with them answering their questions about what affected farmers. Some of the suggestions we offered were considered and made into agriculture policy for Alberta. We had a good relationship with Peter Lougheed near the end of his premiership.”