Business & Policy
OFA is moving forward on accreditation
By By Mark Wales President Ontario Federation of Agriculture
November 23, 2012, Guelph, ON - As the largest of the province's three general farm organizations (GFOs), the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) takes its job of speaking for farmers seriously. But in May 2012, the OFA, along with the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario (CFFO) and the National Farmers Union of Ontario (NFU) found themselves up against a significant roadblock. After completing the application process, due every three years, under the Farm Registration and Farm Organizations Funding Act, 1993, all three of Ontario's GFOs were denied accreditation by the OMAFRA Appeals Tribunal.
Traditionally, when Ontario farmers complete the farm business registration (FBR) process – which qualifies farmers for farm property tax designation and other programs – they also submit an application fee of $195 payable to one of the three GFOs. Farmers felt that doing that and receiving membership confirmation in return, meant they became a member of the selected organization that does important work on behalf of Ontario farmers.
However, that is not the case, so in May 2012, the accreditation process was disrupted when all three GFOs were denied accreditation. That means farm businesses that registered after the May 23 decision did not initially receive FBR numbers from their GFO of choice – and the funds paid during the process were not redirected to their selected GFO.
The main problem, the Tribunal determined, was the lack of explicit agreement conditions applied to "membership" in the OFA. And, as the accreditation criteria referred to membership practices that dated back to 2011, GFOs were unable to become accredited under the existing 13 regulatory criteria.
In November 2012, Agriculture Minister Ted McMeekin recognized the dilemma and took measures to enable Ontario's GFOs to become accredited. The criteria for accreditation have been reduced from 13 to six. Since OFA has already been approved on each of the remaining six points in the previous two Tribunal hearings on accreditation, we anticipate no problems this time around. This regulatory amendment is only in effect for one year. We will, of course, begin work on how we assign membership in the future to ensure we qualify for accreditation when it is time to reapply.
The process has been a long and tiresome one for OFA, and we are anxious to get back to designating our staff and director resources where they are needed most: working for farmers. A portion of those resources will still be dedicated to working with OMAFRA and Agricorp in preparation for the 2013 farm business registration process which should commence in January, as usual.
OFA thanks the Minister and his staff for recognizing the legal dilemma that has prevented us from being accredited and then taking bold action to enable accreditation. We would also like to thank our staff, directors and members who have expressed their concern over this process, and have asked what they could do to help. The OFA looks forward to continuing its important work as the voice of Ontario farmers.