by GEOFF DALE
A ruling ordering the Dairy Farmers of Ontario (DFO) to pay three producers more than $800,000 in cumulative losses resulting from new assessment fees should set a precedent, says one of the producers.
“The bottom line is that this is not just a victory for dairy producers but for everyone,” said Sunderland producer Bill Denby. “In future when any government agency is involved in implementing new programs, they will have to treat people with a much higher level of fairness.”
Last week the Ontario Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Tribunal ruled the DFO must refund $153,180 to Denby, $511,305.52 to Keith and Ron Jarvis of Seagrave and $139,268 to Dale McFeeters of Woodville.
The trio were among the first to be charged the levy.
The tribunal decision comes after a lengthy battle over fees the producers were charged without adequate warning. In November 2006 DFO initiated a 15 per cent transfer assessment when producers sold their quota.
“We have never seen anything like this before,” added Keith Jarvis, no longer in the dairy industry. “This battle had a huge impact on our family and the way we do business.
While the money was important, it wouldn’t entirely make up for what the family went through over the past few years.
“The most important thing about this decision is that we won,” he added. “Now the DFO will likely conduct business very differently in the future.”
Like Jarvis, McFeeters (who declined an interview with Better Farming) is no longer in the dairy business.
In its 26-page ruling, the tribunal noted there was “no indication that its implementation (of the fees) would be immediate and with no phase-in period to allow producers time to effectively manage their financial affairs.”
The tribunal also concluded “there is a duty to uphold the general common law principle of procedural fairness which lies on every public authority making administrative decisions which is not a legislative nature and which affects the rights, privileges and interests of an individual.”
It also said, other than a joint meeting with the Quebec board (Federation des producteurs de lait du Quebec, there were “no detailed or expert analyses conducted to determine the effect such a policy change would have on producers’ business strategies.”
The implementation of the quota policy changes was based on the DFO chair’s “gut feeling, the report pointed out.
Denby, who is still in the dairy business, milking 80 cows, calls DFO a “fully-blown government agency” that was rolling over producers’ rights.
“People were treated very badly” he added. “This report just cries out for a full public inquiry into just what the DFO does.”
A decision on whether DFO will appeal the ruling has yet to be made.
“If they appeal, we will have to be paid our legal costs,” Denby stressed. “We’ve already had more than $100,000 in legal fees.” BF