© AgMedia Inc
by BETTER FARMING STAFF
Farm Products Appeal Tribunal vice-chair Marthanne Robson left a conference room in the Ramada Inn in Guelph Monday afternoon with a long list of issues, and many industry people, hanging.
“I was hoping I would be able to give you a decision before I go,” she told a room filled with pork industry players and their legal counsel. Instead, the Ottawa-based lawyer pledged that she “won’t take long” and “I hope before I leave this part of the province to come to a conclusion.”
Monday’s conference was a square off between the commission, which has ruled that Ontario Pork’s single desk selling powers should be rescinded, and producers unhappy with the decision and its aftermath.
At issue is the status of a number of appellants, the extent of a stay on a Commission ruling made last October, and, most important, whether the Tribunal will even hear the appeals.
Producers who didn’t take part in Commission hearings last July “sat on the sidelines and should not be permitted to appeal,” argued Sara Blake, counsel for the Farm Products Marketing Commission.
Those appellants include Lambton County producers Tony and Maria Felder, the Huron County Pork Producers Association, and, most recently, producer associations from Ontario Pork Districts 10, 11 and 12.
Glencoe producer Rein Minnema did take part in Commission hearings. Blake accused Elbert van Donkersgoed, Minnema’s representative, of “delaying tactics.” The consultant said he received a large package of commission documents, dated late January, only a week before the conference and had insufficient time to prepare to respond to them.
Backing the commission were producers in favour of stripping the pork board of its powers. They included the open marketing group, led by Brian Simpson of West Lorne, Paragon Farms, Synergy Swine and RFW Farms, and Progressive Pork Producers Cooperative and its wholly owned subsidiary Conestoga Meat Packers.
The open marketing group, “had full party status,” at the Commission hearing. “They are entitled to some certainty of conclusion,” argued their lawyer Geoffrey Spurr.
Bob Hunsberger, chair of Progressive Pork Producers Cooperative, accused Ontario Pork of obstructing the co-operative since 2001 when his group began processing pork at the former Conestoga Packers in Breslau. “3-P has been battling tactics of delay for three years,” Hunsberger complained. He was cut short by Robson, who said the conference was not the place to present evidence.
The end of Ontario Pork’s single desk powers, ordered by the Commission Oct. 6, is on hold, under a stay imposed automatically by a Tribunal appeal. Ontario Pork’s lawyer Sean Foran begged Robson for clarification on the stay before she adjourned the conference. Ontario Pork recently rejoined Hog Industry Advisory Council meetings being held to plan for the end of the pork board’s powers board’s powers despite the stay.
Phil Anwender, Sebringville, who sits on that committee says work can continue to get mandatory price reporting and guarantee of payment schemes into place. Under the Commission’s decision, issued in October, Ontario Pork’s agency powers are to cease Apr. 1.
Blake described the “timelines” set out by the Commission for implementing its decision as “efficient,” adding the industry “has serious problems and needs serious restructuring.”
The stay prevents the Commission’s order to end Ontario Pork’s agency powers April 1, from coming into effect. Quality Meat Packers has already hired staff to operate its settlement process with producers, effective April 1, said procurement officer Dan Cohoe.
The conference won’t reconvene until the week of April 20. Based on previous experience with the Tribunal, van Donkersgoed predicts Robson will make a ruling by Thursday. BF © AgMedia Inc