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Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario Loses Tribunal Appeal, Two Other Farm Organizations Appeal Status Unknown

Ontario General Farm Saga Continues, Estimated Ten Percent of Farmers Could Be Impacted

By , Farms.com

Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario loses its appeal for reaccreditation with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Tribunal as a certified general farm organization. Fate of the other three general farm organizations Tribunal appeal status – Ontario Federation of Agriculture and the National Farmers Union for Ontario - remains unknown.


It’s a legal ramble that’s been going on since 2011, which is estimated to impact roughly 10 per cent of farmers in Ontario – general farm organizations certification with the government. Last week, one of the three previously recognized general farm organizations – Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario (CFFO) found out that its reapplication for certification with the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) Tribunal was rejected because it didn’t meet the legislative requirements for accreditation. The other two general farm organizations, Ontario Federation of Agriculture and the National Farmers Union of Ontario have yet to receive notice from the Tribunal on their application status for reaccreditation.  All three organizations reapplied the second time for accreditation after being rejected once by the Tribunal.

The CFFO along with the other two general farm organizations received a letter from the OMAFRA Tribunal on May 23rd, 2012 that the organization must adhere to a stricter definition of what constitutes as a “member” belonging to an organization.

“It was deemed that members need to have an explicit membership agreement, in order to be considered members under the FDR legislation,” said Nathan Stevens, General Manager of Christian Farmers of Ontario.

The definition refers to a legal clause that deals with the principle of consistent expression and how this applied to the word “member.” The CFFO made the argument in front of the Tribunal that the term member needed to be adaptable over time. However, the Tribunal didn’t agree and said that the term member cannot change throughout an application and it must carry an explicit membership agreement.

“Previous to that, it was assumed by all three organizations that if you had directed your money to an organization and did not ask for a refund that you were effectively a member,” said Stevens.

This issue of general farm organization status should be of great interest to farmers who are required to belong to one of the three general farm organizations in the province in order to qualify for a Farm Business Registration number, which is required for farmers to receive their property tax rebate for agricultural land and most importantly, allows them to access government support programs such as AgriStability and AgriInvest and crop insurance just to name a few.

While steps have been taken to ensure that farmers will receive their property tax rebate, which was made by a regulatory amendment change, their access to important government programs may be an issue. Farmers who were members prior to May 23, 2012 have nothing to worry about, but for the 10 percent of farmers who didn’t join a general farm organization before then, they may have some hurdles to jump.

So what changed to prompt the OMAFRA Tribunal to reject all three organizations after years of virtually the same practice? According to the CFFO, it’s been a change in approach “in general anything that involves money from citizens to organizations or to the government there is a greater level of rigger being applied as to what constitutes a member,” said Stevens.

The Ministry has never given the general farm organizations a template of what they are looking for to ensure that the general farm organizations are following the “explicit membership agreements” process, so there is still some unknown about how to implement this process going forward. The hope is that all OMAFRA will need is an additional check box within the regular membership application form that says something along the lines of  “I choose to become a member” yes, or no and then the farm organization would send a letter saying that they do in fact accept them as a member. “Hopefully it doesn’t involve additional forms,” said Stevens.

While this has been a long process, at least the CFFO is remaining fairly optimistic. “It’s been a bit of a painful process, but we’re working towards it and hopefully we get there soon,” said Stevens.

Unfortunately, it’s now impossible for CFFO to make a successful application for 2012 finances because their boards are considered invalid in the eyes of the Tribunal, which means that the 25 per cent spending that the organization is required to do in their districts – a requirement of the legislation - cannot be done. The boards are viewed as invalid because an overwhelming number of people that voted in the board elections didn’t hold explicit membership agreements with CFFO. The organizations next opportunity to reapply will be in 2013.

The CFFO will be holding their Annual Convention and Banquet on Wednesday, Nov. 14th at the St. George Banquet Hall in Waterloo, Ontario. In addition to the regular convention activities, the CFFO will be passing a motion to affirm conditions surrounding their executive board in regard to the nomination process for the positions of President and Vice-President. The theme for this year’s convention is “Focus on Long-Term Thinking for Today’s Issues.” More information can be found on the CFFO’s website at wwww.christianfarmers.org.

Editor’s note: Thank you to Nathan Stevens for taking the time to talk about a burdensome issue that’s facing the CFFO. Despite the certification hurdles facing the organization, the CFFO remains optimistic and continues to serve its members under these difficult circumstances.


Editor’s note: Thank you to Nathan Stevens for taking the time to talk about a burdensome issue that’s facing the CFFO. Despite the certification hurdles facing the organization, the CFFO remains optimistic and continues to serve its members under these difficult circumstances.

 

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