Is there a disconnect between farm organization leadership and the plight of farmers? by Tim Mount, President, Carleton Landowners Association

I read Mark Tijssen’s letter re Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario (CFFO) leadership response to Conservation Authorities (CA’s) overreach. I then read the response by CFFO president Ed Scharringa to Mark Tijssen’s letter with much anticipation but unfortunately it was much ado about nothing. Coupling the CFFO response with the column of Ian Cummings and I am concerned about the apparent disconnect between farm organization leadership and the plight of farmers on the ground facing court action after court action due to the incipient creep of special interest groups and governmental and quasi governmental agencies.

It is greatly disturbing that farm leadership around the province does little to help farmers within their groups that have designations placed on their private property that limits their ability to maximize their capabilities to expand, phase in next generation, innovate and provide viable drainage for their crops. In short stopping the right to farm.

It was also greatly disturbing in past years to see farm organizations shy away from supporting farmers, who had paid memberships, in Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) cases. The Farm Organizations preferred to go on the guilty until proven innocent methodology and would not provide support to help the farmer push back against farcical orders and charges and in the very few cases of real abuse or negligence, they refused to provide retraining, mental health support or even a thorough audit of the farmers practices to help them get back on track.

This farm group laissez faire attitude has now extended into Conservation Authorities and the massive overreach they have been allowed to take, primarily under the McGuinty/Wynne liberal governments (2003-2018). When you look at Queen’s Park Hansard records you see that the CA’s were formed under the direction, by the Ontario Legislature’s intent, of providing support to mitigate erosion and flooding. In the last 20 years that hasn’t happened.

The lack of CA’s upholding their mandate then prompted Minister Jeff Yurek, after getting hundreds if not thousands of complaints about CA overreach and court cases, to reach out and set up five meetings in the spring of 2020 before Covid hit. These meetings were open to interested parties. I know the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) participated. I am not sure about the CFFO especially in the Colborne meeting. To say there was no public consultation is disingenuous, especially after the meetings were done and the public could provide comments online.

Mr.Scharringa’s comment ” We believe CA’s serve an important societal role in protecting people and property, but they must be equipped to do so.”, is the epitome of disconnect. They were never charged with protecting people. Their mandate is preventing flooding and erosion and the damage these create on private and public property, Full Stop!! The problem is they have charged people for attempting to protect their own private property from flooding and erosion so how are the CA’s helping?? The CA’s attitude is exemplified by a paraphrase of the Rideau Valley CA’s chairman at the Colborne meeting. Paraphrased it is: ‘We are there to protect the people from themselves’. Unfortunately, this smacks of the same ideological radicalism that is hurting farmers, farming and the rural lifestyle. This is an attitude that dismisses the incalculable value and knowledge that farmers and rural property owners, who are the stewards of their private property and know their property intimately, having acquired this knowledge through time and education.

Tied to this is the constant reiteration, in those five meetings, that the CA’s are redundant in everything they do except what they are supposed to be doing; Helping property owners, including municipalities, mitigate for flooding and erosion. CA’s are doing vast overreach by taking on issues that belong strictly in the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP); Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA); and Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF). Conservation and Parks should be removed from MECP. Parks should be in MNRF and Conservation named to clarify its responsibilities, Ministry of Hydrological Flooding and Erosion Mitigation. This would more sharply focus where CA’s need to be putting their efforts into helping and not hindering, educating not charging. The confrontational, ‘we know best attitude’ does not cut it especially when people’s property is flooded by third parties and CA’s stop you from protecting your property.

These Ministries and Farm Organizations need to FOCUS, FOCUS, FOCUS!