by BETTER FARMING STAFF
The National Farmers Union-Ontario’s daylong hearing before the Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Appeal Tribunal in Guelph on Wednesday ended with some jarring questions and an admonishment from a Tribunal member.
Tribunal member Mary Field repeatedly asked NFU-O representatives Ann Slater and Sarah Bakker if it was possible that the national council of the NFU might again refuse to accept the election of the NFU-O coordinator from Ontario. (Coordinator is the NFU-O’s equivalent of president in other general farm organizations.)
Slater, the current coordinator, and a St. Marys area organic farmer, did not rule out the possibility, despite recent changes to bylaws and an “education process.” “Never say never,” she replied to repeated questions from Field.
Field was disapproving of the changes that have been made to the rules of operation at NFU-O. “I don’t see (the election process) clarified to my satisfaction,” Field told Slater shortly before the hearing ended just after 4 p.m. “It appears that what has happened the last time has not been corrected.”
“What happened,” as Field described it, was that in 2010 the NFU-O annual meeting elected Desboro farmer Sean McGivern to the position of NFU-O coordinator. His election was subsequently rejected at the organization’s national council, even though Ontario representatives make up more than half of the delegates at a national meeting. McGivern was described as a “resigned” NFU-O board member in the Tribunal’s May 23 decision stemming from the original NFU reaccreditation hearing in June of 2011. McGivern and other former NFU-O directors are now attempting to certify a new general farm organization, Practical Farmers of Ontario, with an anti-supply management tone. The National Farmers Union supports orderly marketing of poultry and dairy products.
Slater emphasized that NFU-O changed its bylaws at its annual meeting in March, before losing its certification in May. General farm organizations go before the Tribunal every three years for certification. The Ontario Federation of Agriculture and the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario were also decertified in May and the organizations have hearings before the tribunal scheduled this week in Guelph.
Field and fellow Tribunal member Jane Sadler Richards, who was also a member of Wednesday’s hearing panel, sat on the Tribunal at the June 2011 re-accreditation hearing. Chairing Wednesday’s hearing was Hamilton lawyer Nicholas Richter. (Essex County lawyer Kirk Walstedt, who is also chair of the Tribunal, had chaired last year’s re-accreditation hearing).
Slater and Sarah Bakker, Bobcaygeon, regional office administrator for the NFU in Ontario, went into great detail about the relationship between NFU-O, NFU Region 3, and the national body and answered detailed questions about financial statements. The NUF-O and NFU Region 3 share the same membership list.
According to their testimony, Ontario members, (there were 2,418 on Sept. 30 last year) make up more than half of the membership in the National Farmers Union and Bakker’s “rough estimate” is that funding from Ontario makes up 50 to 55 per cent of the national organization’s budget with the rest coming from other provinces. Of every $195 membership collected through Farm Business Registrations in Ontario, the national organization gets $99. “There is much work done for Ontario farmers by the national office,” Slater said.
A membership in NFU-O is also a membership in NFU Local 3 and in the national organization.
Slater and Bakker testified that NFU-O has met all of the province’s criteria for an accredited farm organization.
The organization has “explicit memberships” of more than 250 farm business owners who paid the $195 fee, as required by provincial legislation. It provides services to its members. It sends more than the required 25 per cent of its income to its “locals” across the province, and it writes a cheque for 1.5 per cent of its income to support a francophone farm organization based in eastern Ontario.
The issue of obtaining “explicit memberships” is key for all three general farm organizations. The Ontario Federation of Agriculture’s re-certification hearing is scheduled for Friday; the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario for Saturday. All three organizations expect that the Tribunal will render its decision within 30 days. BF