by Donald R. Good, P.Ag.
AgriNews Staff Writer
ONTARIO–The recent election has put Ontario under considerably new and different management. Love him or hate him, Premier Ford will bring a new approach to government. His mantra of putting more money in tax payers pockets should be good for agriculture. The rural ridings of Ontario were a big part of Premier Ford’s majority. Urban ridings can be fickle. The new government won’t have the luxury of an extremely unpopular sitting Premier in the next election. Wynne actually conceded the election before the vote.
If the rural ridings remain loyal, it will be the best opportunity for farmers to collect on the election support dividend. Providing that Premier Ford delivers the dividend, the rural ridings could also be critical for any possible re-election chances in four years.
Over the past 37 years that I have provided legal services to farmers, I have defended many farmers in court against a tidal wave of complex new health, safety and environmental regulations. In many cases, it is not the law itself that is the problem. The decision was made long ago to put the investigation and enforcement of farm legislation primarily under the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC). I always thought this was a bad arrangement. There are enough risk factors facing farmers.
The administration of farm legislation is in the hands of officers with no loyalty or affinity to agriculture, often with little knowledge or understanding of farming. I once experienced an Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) officer, who gave evidence under oath, that he witnessed market pigs standing in water three feet deep up to their knee joint and the pigs were on a slopping floor which meant the water was defying the laws of gravity. To the investigation officer a conviction for some minor transgression is just another successful notch on the there is no demonstrable impact or potential impact on the environment or public safety, the officer is up one regardless of the cost to the farm sector. These defence costs can be significant.
We do have an example of a system with checks and balances with respect to complaints against farmers for noise, odour and dust. With respect to these complaints, there is a protocol between MOECC and OMAFRA that allows officers from OMAFRA to mediate the dispute and, if mediation fails, refer the dispute to the Normal Farm Practices Protection Board. The Board has broad powers to resolve the dispute and at a much lower cost. A similar system with appropriate amendments could be used to vet other disputes under farm legislation, which could weed out frivolous and unnecessary charges. I don’t want to only pick on MOECC officers. I have also had bad experiences with Ministry of Transport with respect to use of farm trucks, the OSPCA and Health and Food, just to name a few.
I challenge the farm organizations to seize this opportunity. Four years goes by very quickly. The appointment of Ernie Hardeman as Agricultural Minister is a further benefit to agriculture and Ernie has always been a strong supporter of agriculture. This is a rare opportunity for the farmers to cash in the dividend in return for the support the rural ridings provided the government, and we have a strong leader at the helm of OMAFRA. I suspect individual farmers or ad hoc groups who have directly experienced abuse will need to encourage the farm organizations to act. Time is of the essence.
In the months to follow, it is my intention to write additional articles on specific incidences of abuse of farm legislation and hopefully provide positive means to address the problem. I have my own examples, however, if you feel you have been abused or are aware of abuse, please write me at AgriNews and tell me your story. Changes will only come if we have sound evidence to support them.
Donald R. Good has practiced farm law for the past 37 years. He is currently on a medical leave of absence to the end of 2018 to recover from heart surgery. He expects to continue his law practice in 2019. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.