by SUSAN MANN
Undeterred by the Ontario Ombudsman’s recent decision to drop an investigation of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, the Union is asking farmers, consumers and others in the food system to contact the Ombudsman’s office. “I’m hoping it’ll encourage the Ombudsman to realize there is enough concern out there that we at least need to look at the issues,” says the NFU’s Ontario coordinator, Grant Robertson.
It’s similar to the way an investigation into the Ontario Lottery Corporation was motivated, he says, explaining the Ombudsman reviewed Ontario’s lotteries after many people complained.
In 2007, the NFU filed a complaint with the Ombudsman saying OMAFRA has failed to introduce policies to maintain and strengthen Ontario’s rural economy and communities. Current policies work against the interest of farm families and constrain the long-term viability of multi-generational farms, the Union claims.
The most recent programs were put in place “so government would be able to spend less money than what they did before,” says Joe Dama, a NFU board member from Ontario. “They weren’t looking at trying to service the needs of farmers, but for the government to spend less money.”
The Ombudsman told the organization its concerns could be raised through public consultations and discussions with political officials. But NFU representatives say there isn’t political will to get OMAFRA to change.
In addition, public consultations are generally about specific topics and not the big picture, Robertson says. The NFU perceives a need for a broad-based discussion about how so many farmers ended up working off-farm just to make a living and where “we need to go in the future” — particularly if the province really wants to have family farmers at the centre of its food system.
Asking the Ombudsman to review the ministry was an attempt to open the door to that discussion “because it’s just not taking place,” Robertson says, suggesting ensuring the economic viability of family farms should be the discussion’s focus.
One organization that was reviewed was Agricorp. Earlier this year, Ontario’s
Auditor General completed a value-for-money audit of the provincial government agency that delivers government and non-government risk management programs. After Auditor Jim McCarter released his recommendations in July, Agriculture Minster Leona Dombrowsky asked farmers for their opinions before she made any decisions. Nineteen submissions were received by the mid-September deadline.
The minister is still reviewing the comments, says ministry spokesperson Sherry Persaud. “We were quite busy with the economic statement that was just released.” BF