The National Farmers Union-Ontario refuses to reorganize its relationship with its Saskatoon parent group, even after a provincial tribunal ended the provincial group’s status as an accredited Ontario farm organization.
Ontario’s Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Appeal Tribunal in December dismissed the NFU-O’s application for accreditation, cutting off its direct access to stable funding through the province’s farm business registration (FBR) system.
Ontario farmers must apply for an FBR number if they want to access certain provincial ag programs, and maintaining an FBR requires, among other things, that farmers pay $195 in annual dues to an accredited general farm organization.
The NFU-O, through its accreditation in previous years, has seen its FBR membership increase to 2,400 in 2012 from just 250 ten years earlier.
Now the NFU-O must rely on farmers to support it through refunds from the province’s two remaining accredited groups, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture and Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario.
The tribunal’s specific reasons for now rejecting the NFU-O were released just last month, describing the NFU-O as “so completely dominated and controlled by another farm organization (that it) does not represent farmers in the province.”
The tribunal said the Saskatoon-based National Farmers Union, not the NFU-O, has been representing farmers in the province through the NFU-O’s accreditation.
The NFU-O “carries out very few activities on its own and is essentially a legal conduit through which the NFU accesses stable funding,” the tribunal said.
But the NFU-O’s council disputes that interpretation and has now requested a meeting with Premier Kathleen Wynne, who’s also the provincial ag minister, to “discuss the issue of accreditation.”
Wynne and provincial ag ministry staff have already “supported the NFU-O’s position” before the tribunal, the NFU-O noted, “especially in interpreting specific sections” of the FBR legislation.
“It is completely inappropriate for three unelected appointees to tell our members how they should run this organization,” NFU-O local president Tony McQuail, a Huron County farmer, said in a recent release.
The tribunal, he said, “has completely misunderstood the relationship between the NFU and the NFU-O, and we are not going to change this to please an unreasonable tribunal.”
“The original intent when developing the legislation was to have the NFU grandfathered in so that farmers could have a choice,” he said. “The minister (Elmer Buchanan, at that time) intended to have three organizations so that farmers could choose who best represents them.”
NFU-O president John Sutherland, in the same release, said the tribunal’s implication that the NFU-O has used “nefarious means to access stable funding” is “patently false.”
Citing the relationship between federal, provincial and local governments, Sutherland said the same is true of the NFU’s relationship with the NFU-O and the NFU-O’s locals.
“The tribunal has missed the point that we are all working for the betterment of Ontario farmers at every level,” he said.
Ruling leaves NFU-Ont. seeking funds from refunds, April 27, 2013