OFA president re-elected

Southwestern Ontario vegetable farmer Mark Wales has been re-elected president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture for a second one-year term.

He farms in the Aylmer area.

He and the new OFA board have immediate issues to tackle in one of Canada’s largest agricultural provinces.

With opposition MPPs promising to defeat the minority Liberals once they elect a new leader in January to replace outgoing premier Dalton McGuinty, there likely will be a spring election with the rural-based Progressive Conservative party favoured to win.

Wales said in a statement after his re-election at the OFA annual meeting that preparing to lobby campaigning politicians will be a priority.

In part, the federation wants to make sure all campaigning parties support continuation of the $100 million cost-of-production based Risk Management Program that Ontario offers to farmers.

The Liberals, almost bereft of rural seats after the 2011 election, have maintained the program despite the fact that the federal government will not chip in its normal 60 percent of costs, arguing the RMP could be deemed trade or production distorting and therefore trigger trade challenges.

The OFA wants to be sure all competing parties are committed to the program, despite pressures to balance the provincial books.

Wales said that at the annual meeting, members of Ontario’s largest general farm organization representing 37,000 provincial farm families presented many ideas to be developed leading to the next major opportunity to influence politicians.

“The next several months are critical to OFA’s lobby efforts as we develop an election plan for spring,” he said in a statement issued after the convention. “Communication with our grassroots members will be key.”

The new and re-elected board members must also deal with a legal mess created when a provincial tribunal rejected all three general farm organizations — OFA, Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario and the National farmers Union Ontario branch — as accredited organizations eligible to receive mandatory farmer membership payments.

With the tribunal decision on what the farm groups say is a technicality, funding for the organizations has been restricted.

Wales said after a “long and tiresome” process, the Liberal government is committed to finding a way to see the organizations accredited and able to receive farmer payments.

Under provincial law, when farmers complete the farm business registration process that makes them eligible for farm property tax breaks and other programs, they are expected to pay a $195 application fee to one of the three accredited farm organizations.

That flow of money has been disrupted, but the election-bound Liberals have promised to fix the problem, probably before the expected spring vote.