GUELPH — The Ontario Federation of Agriculture is expected to vote this month in favour of changing how it elects its president and executive. And that has some farmers very concerned.
The change would remove the ability of delegates to vote for the executive (the president, two vice-presidents and secretary/treasurer) and instead give that right to the 18 members of the board of directors. The OFA executive contends that the bylaw change is necessary to keep the organization in compliance with the law and is actually a better selection process. Critics contend that the move is being rushed through unnecessarily and takes rights away from grassroot members.
The decision to change came after a review of the organization’s bylaws, sparked by a close three-way race for VP and prompting questions about how the election process worked. That’s when the OFA discovered it was out of compliance with the Corporations Act. To comply, the OFA opted for the chair and executive to be elected by the board. Not wanting to face fines or be left unable to apply for government funding, the board voted unanimously to change the bylaw, said OFA president Keith Currie. The change now requires a two-thirds majority support by delegates at its Nov. 23 online annual general meeting. There was an alternative method that would involve members voting but legal counsel advised against it, said OFA director of policy research Jason Bent.
Former board member Eleanor Renaud, a Jasper-area beef and crop farmer, said that the bylaw change is not necessary and will change the face of “Farmers Parliament” completely, referring to the organization by its nickname. “It’s definitely something the members need to know about. They’re losing part of their voice.”
Voting for the executive is how members communicate with the organization on an annual basis, she argued. Elections for directors are all well and good, but they only happen every three years. “It’s what gives (the OFA) that ability to tell the province, ‘this is what our members want’ and we know that, because we’re engaged with our members.”
But Currie suggested delegates electing the executive isn’t the best way to do things anyway. “The board works together very closely. So perhaps they’re in a better position than the delegates to understand who the best choices are.” A delegate attending the AGM might be meeting a candidate for the first time, he said. “I give a great or terrible speech, you might elect me or not. Is that a good way to elect a leader?”