by BETTER FARMING STAFF
The Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Appeal Tribunal has denied accreditation to Ontario’s three general farm organizations.
Spokespeople for the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario and the National Farmers Union – Ontario, say technical issues are behind the decisions, which stem from hearings held nearly a year ago.
“It’s minor technical stuff,” says Mark Wales, OFA president. “As far as we're concerned it's business as usual.”
All groups received the individualized decisions on Wednesday and say that they are reviewing the documents. What happens to the money that organizations collected for this year is "a question that's on a lot of minds," says Ann Slater, NFU-O’s coordinator. Accreditation is part of the process that allows the farm groups to charge a Farm Business Registration fee.
Every farm business in the province with sales of more than $7,000 is required to belong to one of the organizations. Objectors can apply for an exemption on religious grounds. Farm operators register with Agricorp as a member of an organization. Registration is one of the prerequites for receiving the farm property tax class rate.
All three organizations must reapply for accreditation every three years. The issues raised in this decision have never been raised in earlier Tribunal reviews, Slater says.
"I'm not sure why these have become issues this time," she says. She notes that complaints brought against the NFU-O as part of the review process may have generated some of the panel’s questions around her organization's electoral process. She says these were already addressed at the organization's annual general meeting in March and she's confident they will meet the requirements outlined in the Tribunal's decisions.
Concerns that the three-member Tribunal panel raised that applied to all three organizations included:
· The need for an explicit membership agreement between applicants and general farm organizations in order to counteract some conflicting and confusing wording in the 1993 Farm Registration and Farm Organizations Funding Act concerning how payment is collected and distributed to farm organizations.
· Late filings of audited statements to the Tribunal as well as a lack of details such as number of refunds made.
· The need to better document direct and in-kind contributions to local affiliates.
Concerns specific to the NFU-O included:
· The NFU-O inaccurately stated on its website that the National Farmers Union is the certified general farm organization under the Ontario Farm Business Registration program, pointing out that it is the Ontario branch that is was the accredited farm organization and the NFU “has no standing under the Act,” the decision states.
· The NFU should have developed accounting processes so that its annual audit can comply with the standards established in the Handbook of the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants “without any exceptions,” the decision states.
· The process used to elect Regional Council members of the NFU-O “does not meet the prescribed criteria” in the one of the Act’s regulations, which requires that an executive body “at the provincial level that is elected by its members or by electors chosen by members,” the decision states.
As for the CFFO, the Tribunal panel found that the organization’s president and vice-president positions were prematurely filled each year by acclamation before the time during the CFFO annual convention when nominations close. The practice “limits the ability of CFFO members or . . . electors chosen by members to exercise their democratic right to elect an executive body at the provincial level as specified in the CFFO bylaws,” the decision states.
Nathan Stevens, CFFO’s interim manager and director of policy development, says the organization’s nominations are open, "so it's just a little bit of cleanup as far as that goes." He explains nominations for these positions close at the organization’s provincial council meeting on the last Wednesday of October before its annual convention in November. “What that meant is that there have been years where there are acclamations for president at the convention,” he says.
There were no concerns specific to the OFA, the province’s largest farm organization. BF