Response to Proposed Changes to Combine the Grains Act, the Livestock and Livestock Products Act and the Farm Products Payments Act

RE: Proposed changes to combine the Grains Act, the Livestock and Livestock Products Act and the Farm Products Payments Act

Dear Ms. Cameron,

The National Farmers Union – Ontario (NFU-O) is an accredited farm organization representing thousands of sustainable family farmers in Ontario and has advocated for farm families across Ontario and Canada since 1969. Members work together to achieve agricultural policies that ensure dignity and income security for farm families, while protecting and enhancing rural environments for present and future generations. The NFU-O collaborates locally, nationally and internationally to research, educate, and share effective solutions that lead to a better world for farm families and their communities.

The NFU-O appreciates the opportunity being given to comment on the proposed changes to combine the Grains Act, the Livestock and Livestock Products Act and the Farm Products Payments Act.

Background
Ontario’s 2019 budget committed the government to review the programs to ensure grain and beef cattle producers have access to stable risk management tools that provide them with the confidence to grow their businesses. There was consensus that the programs work well, and no
major changes were needed to the structure or delivery and governance of those programs for the two sectors. However, changes were identified to strengthen producer protection and level the playing field for dealers by: (1) providing more clarity, flexibility, and transparency; (2) updating Board powers; and (3) promoting compliance with the program requirements by enhancing enforcement tools. It was also recommended that the legislative framework be updated to allow for the addition of other sectors.

The ministry has taken a phased approach to introducing changes. The first phase (completed April 2020) focused on the sustainability of the programs and laying the groundwork for future enhancements, including amending the Farm Products Payments Act (became effective January 1,  2020). These amendments: (1) provided for the Livestock and the Grain Financial Protection Boards (the Boards) to take on a greater role in supporting risk management for the sectors; and (2) broadened the types of expenses that may be paid out of a fund. Additionally, a new related regulation became effective April 1, 2020 (Ontario Regulation 467/19 – Boards Payment of Expenses).

The comments and recommendations outlined below address Phase 2 of the proposal, which is focused on the following key areas:

  • Improving and clarifying the rules and requirements to obtain and renew a licence
  • Expanding the suite of enforcement tools to encourage compliance
  • Updating appeal provisions
  • Updating Board powers
  • Making it easier to expand the programs to other sectors
  • Allowing for greater flexibility in program delivery and administration

Combining the Grains Act, the Livestock and Livestock Products Act and the Farm Products Payments Act
The NFU-O supports the combining of the Grains Act, the Livestock and Livestock Products Act and the Farm Products Payments Act into one consolidated Agricultural Products Financial Protection Act. Combining of the Acts into one consolidated Act will allow greater consistency between the programs, and make it easier to expand the scope of the Financial Protection Programs. However, NFU-O recommends that the regulations and guidelines for the livestock, grains, and other sectors added to the Act remain under separate subsections for ease in navigation and clarity. As well, we recommend that it is made clear that producers exporting outside the province or country are not covered by this program.

Improving and clarifying the rules and requirements to obtain and renew a licence
The NFU-O is in support of clarifying the rules and requirements to obtain and renew a licence, including 1) the OMAFRA Director using the past conduct of an applicant to refuse to issue or renew a license, 2) the Director being able to refuse to grant a license if the person applying, or a person associated with the person applying, has been the cause of claims to be paid from the funds (i.e., unless arrangements have been made for reimbursement), and 3) giving the Minister the power to require dealers and elevator operators to display (physically in their operation or on their website)/provide their license if requested. The NFU-O also recommends that all agents should be licensed to be authorized under the Act, and licences should have the names of all individuals involved in the licence-holding, including those individuals living outside of the province/country. However, we are interested in knowing more about how specific dealer information for numbered corporations could be made available to the public through a registry with privacy legislation in place that protects the dealer.

With regard to security requirements, The NFU-O supports the change to allow the Director the authority to use the security deposited by dealers to pay costs incurred by the Board in investigating and adjudicating claims. We also support OMAFRA exploring a payables insurance as a form of security. However, we are interested in better understanding how OMAFRA will ensure that agents buying perishable goods (resellers) will comply with the proposed security requirements outlined in the discussion paper.

Expanding the suite of enforcement tools to encourage compliance
The NFU-O supports the proposed changes and feels this would provide a broader range of enforcement tools to ensure and not just encourage compliance. However, we recommend that the Director use a set of justification criteria to issue a Freeze Order or AMP that ensures the allegation is not made on faulty grounds. We would also recommend that the current fines be increased.

Updating appeal provisions
The NFU-O agrees with the proposed changes to streamline the appeal process. Using the rationale of reviewing the Director’s decisions as to whether it is reasonable should be sufficient for all parties involved with the current backlogs in many courts.

Updating Board powers
The NFU-O supports updating Board powers, including allowing the Boards to delegate certain powers such as determining the size of the Board and appointing a Chair and Vice-Chair (if both are absent), and allowing the Boards to assign panels to hear claims as opposed to the entire Board. We do not agree with the change to allow one Board to manage multiple funds.

Making it easier to expand the programs to other sectors
The NFU-O supports the expansion of the programs to other sectors, including the OFVGA. We would also like to recommend that specific programs address the growing organic market for grains, oilseeds, and beef in Ontario.

Allowing for greater flexibility in program delivery and administration
The NFU-O supports the retention of Agricorp for program delivery and the two financial protection boards in carrying out their mandates. We recommend that the boards and funds remain separate and that loans are not permitted between funds.

Sincerely,

Don Ciparis
President, National Farmers Union – Ontario

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