Ont. moves to restore general farm groups’ accreditation

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Ontario’s top three general farm organizations will be able to fund themselves through their usual membership fees for now, under a temporary reprieve from the province.

Rulings in May from the province’s Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Appeal Tribunal saw all three — the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, the National Farmers Union-Ontario and the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario — lose their accreditation, thanks to a new interpretation of changes made almost 20 years ago to the provincial Farm Registration and Farm Organizations Funding Act.

The province’s new regulation, filed last week to take effect for a year starting Nov. 22, will briefly sidestep some of the changes made in 1993.

Until this year, the OFA, NFU-O and CFFO have received much of their revenue from membership fees collected when farmers make their annual filings of their farming business registration forms through the provincial agency Agricorp.

Registered farmers each pay $195, which is then directed to the accredited organization of their choice.

However, as per the 1993 reworking of the Act, payment of the fee alone does not confer membership. The farm group in question has to "explicitly" accept the membership application, and communicate that fact to the farmer or farm business.

To continue to collect fees as they had previously, the three groups would have been requiring "negative option" membership, which doesn’t comply with the Act.

The tribunal also found in May that none of the three groups had submitted their audited financial statements and auditors’ reports within the timeframe and specific criteria laid out in the Act for 2008, 2009 or 2010.

"Good work"

The tribunal had heard appeals in July from all three groups. It dismissed the appeals from the OFA on Wednesday and the CFFO on Nov. 7, before the province announced Thursday it will set up a regulatory amendment under the Act.

In dismissing the two groups’ appeals this month, the tribunal indicated it would have provided provisional accreditation but was "unable to do so under the existing legislation," the province said Thursday.

The province’s temporary streamlining in the accreditation process "will make it easier for the three general farm organizations to become accredited for a transitional period while they address the matters raised in the recent tribunal decisions," the province said.

The amended regulation is temporary and will end in one year, the province said. "Any organization accredited within this time will be required to meet the full original criteria under the program once their three-year accreditation period expires."

The temporary changes "will allow farm organizations time to work on the matters identified by the tribunal, while continuing to serve their membership."

The province’s ag ministry said Thursday it now intends to review "all aspects" of its Farm Business Registry program, including the accreditation criteria and process for general farm organizations.

A review, the province said, is expected to ensure Ontario farmers can access government programs, while farm organizations "can continue to do their good work on behalf of Ontario farmers."

Related story:
Ontario general farm groups to appeal lost status, July 17, 2012