Ontario’s agriculture minister has intervened against a provincial tribunal’s ruling that allowed hog farmers a “negative option” to sell hogs through a single marketing desk.
Provincial legislation gives Agriculture Minister Carol Mitchell the authority to “confirm, vary or rescind” a decision made by her ministry’s appeal tribunal or send it back for a new hearing, she said in a letter posted Thursday on Ontario Pork’s website.
In this case, the province’s Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Appeal Tribunal last month reinstated sections of the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Regulations that were revoked in October 2008 by the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission (OFPMC).
The commission’s 2008 ruling – which directed Ontario Pork to convert itself from a mandatory single-desk model to an optional marketing agency for Ontario hog farmers, and to put a plan in place by March 2009 to do so – was stayed by the tribunal after some farmers and other industry players appealed.
The tribunal’s decision last month restored Ontario Pork’s single desk, but also exempted all Ontario hog producers from it for at least 18 months, while Ontario Pork completed its consultations and governance reviews toward a new marketing structure.
Given what the tribunal’s vice-chair called a “negative option,” hog farmers who want to market through Ontario’s single desk would then have to apply to waive that exemption. The waiver would bind a farmer to market his or her production through Ontario Pork for “a minimum period of 18 months.”
The appeal tribunal also overturned the commission’s decision on fee collection, restoring Ontario Pork’s authority to collect fees on all classes of domestic swine produced in Ontario, not just slaughter hogs.
But Mitchell, the MPP for Huron-Bruce and ag minister since January, wrote in a letter dated Wednesday that she has granted herself an extension, until May 26, to review the tribunal’s decision.
And all parties to the tribunal’s decision, including Ontario Pork and the appellant farmers, will be allowed to make submissions to the Agriculture Ministry by no later than April 14.
“I am particularly interested in receiving submissions regarding the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ of having a dual-desk/open market system versus the current single-desk system,” Mitchell wrote.
“More specifically, I am looking for evidence as to what marketing system would best protect the interest of Ontario’s pork industry and an explanation as to why Ontario should use that marketing system.”
Also, she wrote, she wants to see submissions on “what change(s) would be needed to either make the existing current single-desk system work more effectively or what should be included should I decide that Ontario’s marketing policy should (move) to a dual-desk/ open-market system.”
In the meantime, she wrote, the tribunal’s decision “will not be final” until she either issues her own decision coming out of her review, or until her allowed period for her extension has lapsed, whichever comes first.
Noting the tribunal’s ruling – that the OFPMC’s move to a dual desk/open market was “not in accordance” with the province’s Farm Products Marketing Act – Mitchell said she believes the tribunal’s interpretation of the act “is too narrow” and that the act doesn’t require just one single type of regulatory system for a regulated product in Ontario.
Rather, she wrote, the act is meant “to allow for a flexible and fluid regulatory system for all regulated products in Ontario.” Thus, she wrote, she has rescinded that part of the tribunal’s decision dealing with its interpretation of that part of the act.