Articles

THEO PARKER’S one-man war against the state

He started swinging when Ontario said he’d sell his hogs through the Hog Board, or else. He raided their meetings, fought them through the courts, dragged in the Canadian parliament—and he isn’t licked yet

ALAN PHILLIPS August 3 1957
Articles

THEO PARKER’S one-man war against the state

He started swinging when Ontario said he’d sell his hogs through the Hog Board, or else. He raided their meetings, fought them through the courts, dragged in the Canadian parliament—and he isn’t licked yet

ALAN PHILLIPS August 3 1957

THEO PARKER’S one-man war against the state

He started swinging when Ontario said he’d sell his hogs through the Hog Board, or else. He raided their meetings, fought them through the courts, dragged in the Canadian parliament—and he isn’t licked yet

ALAN PHILLIPS

This is the story of Theo Parker, a six-foot-six farmer and country politician who objects in general to regimentation and in particular to selling his hogs through Ontario's Hog Board.

For four years Parker, the perfect image of a very stubborn individual in collision with a very stubborn society, has carried his battle against the board into the headlines and the courtrooms.

To everyone’s surprise but his own he has forced the board to seek aid from organized agriculture and from the Ontario and federal governments. By last year, when The legal scrimmage reached the Supreme Court of Canada, it had grown into a national issue affecting every consumer and most of the farmers in the country.

The Ontario Hog Producers' Marketing Board is big business. Southern Ontario’s bacon and hams are known around the world. Its farmers raise some two million hogs a year. The pork packers—companies like Canada Packers, Swifts and Burns pay roughly a hundred million dollars for them. And though only twenty-three percent of the farmers’ hogs are actually sold by the Hog Board, the packers pay the board for them all. and the

board pays the farmers — after deducting a sales fee, even from those who sell their hogs direct to the packers.

This sales fee is the crux of a complex legal dispute. Parker insists that it adds to the price of pork, and is thus an indirect tax. According to the British North America Act, only the federal government can levy an indirect tax, or regulate produce crossing provincial boundaries.

The case before the Supreme Court last year thus assumed immense significance. If Parker was right, Ontario's Farm Products Marketing Act was illegal. If the act was illegal so was every marketing board in Ontario—seventeen huge farmers’ co-ops selling twenty-one kinds of produce. And if these boards were illegal so was every farm-products board in Canada, for they all need somewhat similar powers to operate.

When the Supreme Court decision came down it gave Parker a partial victory—but even so it left him back where he started in his dealings with the Hog Board.

To understand this paradox we must know something of the background. The Hog Board had its origin not long before World War 11, when a drover called at the farm of Charles Mclnnis, of Iroquois. Questioning him, Mclnnis found that the drover trucked hogs to the packing plants, sold them, and paid the farmer. He was one of hundreds of drovers who, by competing with each other, were forcing down the price of hogs. Hog farmers should band together, Mclnnis felt, as Ontario’s cheese, fruit and asparagus producers had done in 1938, as fruit growers in the Okanagan Valley had done since 1913.

Mclnnis launched the Ontario Hog Producers’ Association in 1940. Six years later, after a vote of hog farmers, the Hog Board was set up. In January 1953 it went into action with a central sales agency. United Livestock Sales Ltd. In March of that year the burgeoning

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“He has almost as many friends as enemies. If someone says no, they claim Parker says yes”

Hog Board and Theo Parker clashed head-on.

It is said of Theo Parker that if someone says no he’ll say yes. According to his friends, who are almost as numerous as his enemies, he is outspoken, argumentative, and distrustful of authority. Depending on one’s viewpoint he’s either a natural-born rebel or an old-fashioned liberal.

His staunchest supporter is his wife Laura, a short plump voluble woman, active in the Women’s Institute since her two sons grew up. She has helped Parker through the rough-and-tumble of local politics in Ellice Township, where Parker’s farm is located, with a box score of seven defeats and twelve victories. He’s been reeve of Ellice seven times and warden of Perth County once. He was Liberal candidate in the 1945 federal election, and he lost in characteristic fashion.

Just before the election a delegation of Protestants pointed out that Ottawa’s choice for county judge was a Catholic —the second in a row. Another man might have made a perfunctory protest in the hope of appeasing the Protestants and escaping the rancor of Catholics. Not Parker, a Presbyterian. His protest was so vigorous that it brought a change of judges and cost him Catholic support. He lost the election by a hundred and seventy votes.

Parker and his wife live in a small brick cottage on the outskirts of Stratford. Last year, at fifty-three, he gave his son the Parker homestead and one hundred acres in Ellice first tilled in 1853 by his English-born grandfather. On the hundred acres he has left he grows grain and corn to feed his cattle, pride of his life.

Though he spent less than two years

in high-school he’s read a good deal of law in his long career as a rural politician. Three years ago Stratford optioned an old gravel pit in Ellice Township for use as a dump. The farmer across the road, who took pride in his grounds, came to Parker for help. Parker phoned Stratford’s then-mayor, I.awrence Feick. The municipal act was quite clear, he told Feick. “You have to get the township’s permission to put that dump out here and that’s something you’ll never get”—an accurate prophecy.

Theo Parker also knows his hogs. He’s been raising fifty to seventy-five a year since the age of eighteen. In March 1953 he sent ten hogs with a drover to the J. M. Schneider plant at Kitchener. But his cheque came, not from Schneider’s, but from United Livestock Sales, the Hog Board’s selling agency, and the board had deducted a fee of twenty-four cents a hog from his sale price.

ULS was then selling all the hogs brought to the public stockyards in Toronto. ULS salesmen dickered several times a week with a packer or two and set the price at the highest bid they could get. Toronto prices usually prevailed across the province, though if one area had a surplus of hogs that was holding down the price, ULS could truck the surplus to wherever hogs were scarce. ULS sold only nine percent of the hqgs in Ontario but the Hog Board figured every producer benefited, and every producer was therefore charged the twenty-fourcent sales fee.

Parker figured differently. He fired off a blistering letter to the Farmer’s Advocate at London, Ont. “If I’m capable of raising and feeding my hogs,” he wrote, “I'm capable of selling them." A dozen farmers wrote him their agreement.

The amount he paid the Hog Board that year wasn't much more than six dollars. But it was the principle: "They can have a co-op on every corner," he says. "Just don't tell me I have to belong to it. If I don’t patronize it I don’t figure any guy’s got the right to take a deduction off me.”

The more he thought about it the madder he got. At the county-council meeting in January 1954 he moved they ask Ontario to abolish the marketing agency. The vote went nine to seven against him. But the Canadian Press picked up his remark that Hog Board members were "legalized bandits."

Promptly, a group from the Perth County Hog Producers’ Association came to the council demanding that Parker take back his statement. Parker merely spelled out the meaning of legalized bandit. "You get your legality from the Province of Ontario." he told them, "and a bandit is a man who takes money that doesn’t belong to him.”

Over the next few months Hog Board supporters several times told him to go hire a hall. Mrs. Parker thought it a fine idea. In September Stratford’s radio station CJCS proclaimed that "a meeting of all hog producers opposed to the marketing scheme will be held in the city hall."

The hall was packed. Drovers, resentful of regulations, acted as taxis. The Hog Board’s Charlie Mclnnis was there, but whenever he spoke Parker spoke too. I he audience was split roughly in half. Farmers stood in the aisles, heckling, booing or cheering the speakers. At one time in the hot debate Mclnnis left the platform to fetch his brief case, in which he had figures to back up a point. Before he could get back Parker had closed the meeting and was handing out petitions calling on the Ontario Government to abolish the sales agency. ‘Theo." said police chief Alt’ Day afterward, "you put on the best show in town since the festival closed.”

Parker sent the petitions to places where farmers come in to do business— creameries. Hour and feed mills—getting their names from old telephone books. He asked his supporters to send in a dollar. “No one man can fight the province alone,” he says.

The signed forms came back from as far east as Ottawa, from Windsor in the west and Orillia in the north. One farmer sent sixty-five dollars in two installments. An anonymous donor sent sixty dollars rolled up in a calendar. Drovers contributed. In all, some three thousand dollars came in. At the Bank of Commerce in Stratford Parker opened a new account: Theodore Parker—Special.

By November he had more than three thousand signatures. He presented them to Premier Frost at a meeting in Toronto, at which he told Frost all he thought was wrong with the Hog Board. It added up to the fact that the board existed.

"Mr. Parker,” said Frost, "we make the law. If the Hog Board is abusing it. that’s up to you.”

Parker pointed out that a marketing board must be voted in by two thirds of all the producers, according to the Farm Products Marketing Act. A vote had been taken in 1945. The Farm Products Marketing Board had registered 31,796 producers and 98.6 percent of the voters were for the Hog Board. But the 1941 census, said Parker, had counted 123,000 hog producers. “Is your law valid?” he asked.

“1 don’t know,” Frost said frankly.

"Well, we’ll find out.” Parker said.

Back in Stratford he called on Nelson McFarlane, a former Toronto lawyer who prefers Stratford’s leisurely tempo. “I’m in need of a lawyer, Mr. McFarlane. This

here Hog Board, it’s unnecessary and it's illegal. You look after the legal end, and we’ll lick her.”

McFarlane drew up a writ in January 1955 that challenged the power of the board to act. its orders and regulations and its right to appoint ULS as its sales agent. Before the case could come up. the Ontario Government shored up the marketing act with eleven pages of amendments. The Hog Producers' Association met and set up a co-op to replace United Livestock Sales. McFarlane felt these moves made it hopeless to continue.

He asked the judge for a hundred dollars costs and got it. “That left the way open to bring another action," Parker says.

Having knocked out ULS he now set his sights on the co-op. "1 couldn’t afford to quit." he says. "1 couldn’t let them walk over me. When people hand you a dollar bill and say. ‘Don’t quit. Mr. Parker.’ what are you going to do?” Once again he mailed out petition forms, heading them "We want a vote."

That fall the Hog Board stepped up its information campaign. Parker raided their meetings at Wingham. Exeter. Mark-

dale and Chesley. “There’s a Judas Is eariot among us tonight." said Mclnnis at one meeting. Be careful, countered Parker at Ayr. of “the smiling dictators of Queen's Park,” who will “pat you on the back with one hand and pick your pocket with the other.”

At Markdale. Mrs. Parker was ushered to a chair by the Hog Board secretary, Jim Boynton, who had never seen his opponents before. Then Boynton mounted the platform. He held up several of Parker's petitions. "I got these things from a creamery, a housewife, a barber

and an undertaker. Who does this man Parker think he is?”

Parker, at the back of the hall, lifted his husky voice. “Ladies and gentlemen —” People stared at the six-foot-six stranger. “—I’m Theodore Parker.” There was a sudden silence. “I want to tell you I didn't mail any petitions to barbers or undertakers. If Mr. Boynton has some they must be phoney.”

“Get up on the platform!” someone yelled. The Hog Board committee objected. But people kept shouting, "Let Parker talk!” Boynton finally agreed to give him ten minutes.

As Parker began to speak the crowd booed. Mrs. Parker jumped to her feet. “This is the most disgraceful thing I ever saw!" she cried. “And that’s my husband!” The crowd hushed. Parker continued. Afterward, several hundred people lingered outside, arguing until four in the morning.

By fall, however, only twenty-seven hundred signatures had come in. “It’s easier to get dollars than signatures,” Parker says. “If a guy’s neighbors see his name on a petition they’ll come around and give him hell. Farmers don’t want to get into fights with their neighbors.”

The petition served its main purpose: to show that Parker had tried to get a vote before he took the court action he was preparing. In September he had sent two hogs to the Schneider packing house and threatened suit unless Tom Gourlay, the buyer, paid him his cheque direct. Gowr\ reaUzed that Parker was setting up a test case. It put him squarely between the board and the pugnacious farmer. He held the cheque for a month, then gave it to Parker.

The Hog Board held a meeting at Wingham a few' days later. Mclnnis was the speaker. Parker stood up. "Mr. Mclnnis,” he said, “you say you’ve got the law'. If I get a cheque direct from Schneider's I’m breaking the law. Well, Mr. Mclnnis, here's the cheque." He waved it in front of the disbelieving Hog Board officials. “You’ve got the law,” he said. “Now use it.”

He half expected to be arrested over Thanksgiving. McFarlane, away for the holiday, had told him before he left, “If they pick you up. don't send for me. You sit in jail and don’t ask for bail.” Parker wasn’t concerned at first, he says, “but as time went on, you know, it kind of got me.”

But the Hog Board didn’t charge him. The fight continued all fall, with the board claiming that drovers and truckers were cheating the farmer. The board had raised prices, its champions declared, it had held them steady at the higher levels, and once it was marketing all the hogs it would raise prices again.

Parker denied that farmers had to do business with people who cheat them. The board, he claimed, caused hogs to be handled one extra time, resulting in loss of weight and quality and low'er profit. Supply and demand still set the price, he insisted. If the board set the price too high, packers would buy in Winnipeg. People would turn to beef and fowl. Was the Hog Board going to force people to buy pork, he asked?

In November he went to Toronto and paid twenty-five cents for a look at the co-op’s charter. Two weeks later he charged that the co-op was just an elevenman company. Some of its eleven directors weren’t hog producers and thus couldn't qualify as co-op members, he said. The by-laws, he claimed, provide that a farmer, on marketing through the co-op. becomes a member and “shall be so notified" by the co-op. Nobody had been notified, Parker said. In any case

the by-law was “ridiculous.” It gave the farmer ten days to notify the co-op if he didn’t want to become a member.

“No co-op can pass a by-law making me a member against my will,” Parker told the Canadian Press, “any more than a mining company can pass a by-law making me a shareholder.”

As Parker readied his case for court the Ontario Government once again whisked out the rug from under him. Premier Frost asked the federal government to refer the marketing act to the Supreme Court of Canada. Frost wanted an answer to the question Parker had asked him in 1954: was the act legal?

In January this year the Supreme Court decided that a sales fee such as the one set by the Hog Board was indeed an indirect tax and therefore illegal

if it were more than the actual expense of making a sale. The court also ruled, as it had before, that marketing boards had no right to regulate interprovincial trade. So far Parker had won a partial victory. But he lost the war on a court ruling that the federal government could legally delegate its authority in both instances. In April Ottawa introduced new legislation that gives the Province of Ontario full control of agricultural products.

The only public objections came from Parker, who wired a protest to Walter Harris, the incumbent finance minister, and from the Canadian Association of Consumers, whose brief to the prime minister said that the board had monopolistic powers which could be used “without question, to the detriment of Canadian consumers.”

Throughout the whole dispute the packers said little. I asked Jack Whyte, the forthright young president of Stratford’s Whyte Packing Company, for his views. “The marketing system.” he said, “is predicated on the assumption that somebody’s making a fortune. Well. I can name you a dozen packing houses you can buy cheap and it isn’t because they're making a lot of money. I guess there's nothing runs a closer margin than meat. We make about one per cent on our sales dollar. Even the big boys have a hard time satisfying their shareholders."

I suggested the co-op might keep packers from fixing prices. “No packer trusts another packer.” he said. "We have to have hogs. Competition has always been rough at the buying level. Long before the co-ops came into existence eight or nine packers were roaming this countryside, shopping around, bidding against each other.”

Parker agrees. “No packer’s ever taken me for a ride,” he says. “This law, it's only fit for an Iron Curtain country. Why. these people can come on your farm and demand to see your bankbook. They can tell you how many hogs you can produce and what quality. They can fix the price. They can stop your truck on the road. They can license every farmer, trucker and packer—that means a man can’t even produce hogs unless they say so.

“It’s absolute state control," affirms Parker’s lawyer, Nelson McFarlane. an after-hours farmer on land alongside Parker's. “We've got a benevolent government administering the act now. But suppose a Communist government came in tomorrow—they wouldn’t have to change one bit of it.”

The fight may not be over. The Hog Board has not yet been voted in. Parker contends, by a majority of producers. “They’ve got to give us a vote,” he says, “and when they do we’ll whop them.

“Anybody knows you can’t put in another middle-man and still give the farmer more money. What they really want is to give the farmer security. That’s one thing you can’t give a farmer. You raise your stock and take a chance on the market. You sow your grain and take a chance on the crop—sometimes you don t even get your seed back. The only security is to be a good farmer, and they want to take money off the good farmers and divvy it up. When you do that, why quality don’t mean a thing. Take one of our neighbors. The manure in his barn is so high the cattle have to stoop down to get out. We take pride in our cattle. Why should we share our profits with him?

Here we come to the philosophical core of the dispute. Parker sees these conditions as a challenge. The co-ops see them as a risk. Parker sees them as the reason for the farmer’s historic independence, his pride and initiative. The co-ops see them as all the more reason why farmers should organize to protect themselves.

The battle has settled down to longrange sniping—from the public platform, in newspaper columns. Neither side seems aware that there is any middle ground.

In a speech last year to the Hog Producers’ Association, president Charles Mclnnis stated his position this way: "As we face the challenge." he said, “let us remember the words of Lincoln: There

are only two principles at stake—right and wrong.' ”

Parker's position is summed up in a verse which, he says, “couldn t be truer of compulsory marketing."

Once we had a wooden plough And we raised enough to sell But we have a tractor now And life's a living hell. ★