NFU-O pays tribute to Ralph Ferguson

The author of this piece, Don Ciparis, is the National Farmser Union-Ontario (NFU-O) president and a grain farmer in Elgin County.

OPINION – News of former Canadian Agriculture Minister Ralph Ferguson’s passing was met with feelings of appreciation and gratitude from Ontario and Canadian farmers familiar with his legacy and the legacy of those that worked with him. His Compare the Share study of 1991 was an agricultural producer’s manifesto, addressing the inequities between farmers for prices received, consumers for price paid at retail, and processing prices received. His report was often referred to in farm advocacy circles throughout the 90’s and early 00’s. His dedication to addressing this state of inequality earned him respect from both sides of Parliament as well as the name Compare the Share Guy. As an associate of his, Eugene Whelan, once said of a globalizations’ impact on farmers, “Grabbing as much as you can for yourself regardless of who suffers in the process is an old idea. We used to call it piracy.” 

He and his wife Dolores farmed in Lambton County all of their lives, producing cash crops, eggs, pork, and beef. His understanding of the various sectors of agriculture resulted in his serving on many of Ontario’s marketing boards. Ferguson realized in the early 1970s that agriculture was not a very high priority in government circles, and his efforts to correct this situation landed him membership in the National Farm Products Marketing Council in Ottawa from 1972 to 1976. He knew Whelan many years before the introduction of supply management and is considered one of the “Founding Fathers” of supply management in Canada.

With intuition of things to come in Ontario, he promoted ethanol-blended fuels before any plants were constructed in the province. During the upheaval of the high interest rate regime that farmers faced in the early 1980s, he stopped banks from foreclosing on farms, resulting in his appointment to the arbitration panel tasked with achieving some measure of debt resolution. The lack of quality in much of Canada’s imported food was never far from Ralph’s thinking and he worked to improve its safety.

He was elected as the MP from Lambton-Middlesex in 1980 and was Parliamentary Secretary to both Ministers of Finance and Small Business. The short-lived John Turner government of 1984 appointed him as Minister of Agriculture that year before losing his seat in that year’s election but was returned successfully to Parliament in 1988. He was inducted into the Ontario, Middlesex, and Lambton Agricultural Halls of Fame and should be remembered for his work to improve the livelihoods of all Canadian farmers, regardless of political orientation.

Thanks, Ralph for recognizing an inequality when you see it and acting to correct it. Thanks, Dolores for giving the Compare the Share Guy a report title that was the epitome of brilliance.