“If they want to send the sheriff to collect, then at that point there’s a legal dispute.”
– PHIL VELDHUIS
Af o r m e r Ma n i t o b a Beekeepers Association president has set the stage for a potential showdown with his organization by refusing to pay a compulsory membership fee.
Phil Veldhuis calls the newly imposed fee a violation of his human rights and says the MBA has no right to demand payment from him.
Veldhuis is among a handful of Manitoba honey producers holding out against the fee, which came into effect by provincial regulation in March 2009.
The regulation under the Farm Products Marketing Act requires producers with 50 or more bee colonies to register with the province and pay a mandatory annual fee of $200, plus an additional levy of 40 cents per colony up to a maximum of 1,000 colonies.
Veldhuis says the fee infringes on his rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and he has no intention of complying.
That puts him squarely at odds with MBA, which administers the fees and levies and uses the money for its operations.
Veldhuis acknowledged his position stems from a controversy over bee imports which nearly tore MBA apart when he was president.
Beekeepers were deeply divided over whether or not to support a federal ban on packaged bee imports from the U. S. intended to prevent the spread of the varroa mite. Generally, smaller producers favoured retaining the embargo while larger producers wanted it removed.
Veldhuis said he was voted out of the MBA presidency in 2002 after presiding over some bitter, heated meetings on the matter.
Now, he said, he wants nothing to do with MBA.
“The association has collectively decided that those voices of dissent and antagonism should be the ones that are the leadership voices. I just want no part of that.”
Veldhuis also argued MBA cannot use the regulation to collect fees from members because the association does not invoke any other powers of the Farm Products Marketing Act, such as marketing plans.
“If the only power you’re going to make use of under that act is the power to exact fees, if they don’t have a marketing plan, they’re only charging fees and levies to other purposes, then they are evading the intent of the act.”
Veldhuis said MBA has invited him to appeal the matter to the association, as well as the Farm Products Marketing Council, which regulates the act.
NOTHING TO APPEAL
But Veldhuis, who runs over 900 colonies near Starbuck, said there’s nothing to appeal, since he’s not a member and isn’t paying the fee.
Jim Campbell, MBA secretary, said the association is “negotiating with” 10 producers who are, so far, not complying with the regulation.
MBA says there are 183 producers in Manitoba operating more than 50 colonies. So far it has registered 156 producers, including 60 new ones.
Campbell said people who refuse to join MBA can have their membership privileges revoked. Those include receiving the association’s newsletter and participating in the advance payments program for honey, which MBA administers for its members.
But MBA is so far not considering legal action against non-compliant producers, said Campbell.
“We are using an approach where we’re trying to encourage registered producers to join the association in an encouraging way rather than using the hard approach of legal action.”
Veldhuis said he won’t take the matter to court, either, unless the association forces the issue. “If they want to send the sheriff to collect, then at that point there’s a legal dispute.”
Campbell said MBA always had the authority to impose fees after it was brought under the Farm Products Marketing Act in 1992. But it chose to keep membership voluntary.
However, members voted in 2007 for a levy on all registered members because of financial reasons, he said.
MBA pays $17,000 a year in assessments to the Canadian Honey Council, based on the number of hives in the province. It supports a three-year University of Manitoba bee research program at the cost of $10,000 annually. And it pays another $12,000 a year for hive inspections under a provincial cost recovery program.
The mandatory levy is expected to generate $58,000 a year, compared to the MBA’s previous annual budget of $30,000, Campbell said. [email protected]