By Connor Lynch
ORO-MEDONTE — Ontario’s Wildlife Damage Compensation Program was changed in January, with the province allowing for producers to include their own photo evidence in claims.
Sounded like a good idea except that now producers, inspectors and municipalities are all complaining that there is a spike in predator claim rejections.
At first, Andy McNiven, a livestock inspector with the township of Oro-Medonte, nestled beside Barrie, was cautiously optimistic about the changes. “In a lot of ways, there’s a lot of good things in the program,” he told Farmers Forum.
But 10 months after the updated program kicked in, there’s upset farmers and inspectors, he said. The problem isn’t the changes to the program, but how the program is being administrated. “They’re not delivering the program in the spirit it was intended in,” said McNiven.
It’s resulted in a significant increase in the number of claims the province has been rejecting, going from about 5 per cent to 22 per cent, according to Jane Widdecombe, who administers the program for OMAFRA. “To me, word has come down from above to slow these payments down,” McNiven said.
Widdecombe was not available for an interview, said ministry spokeswoman Kristy Denette. She noted in an email that the program “is being delivered in the spirit it is intended — it continues to provide financial assistance to owners whose livestock, poultry, and/or honey bees have been damaged or killed by wildlife.”
OMAFRA will be hosting meetings to provide “further education,” on the new program, she said.
Meantime, OMAFRA has stopped giving sufficient weight to the opinion of investigators, contended McNiven. The new rules that require evidence for kills are requiring unreasonable amounts of evidence, he said.
Richard Horne, manager of policy and issues with Beef Farmers of Ontario, said that he’s heard from plenty of farmers, investigators and municipalities that there are issues with the updated program.
“Pictures alone make it hard to validate the standards of proof,” said Horne. Factors like the weather, the time between the kill and the first photo being taken, the field condition and the behaviour of the predator, can all influence how valuable a photo is vs. an analysis by an investigator, he said.
McNiven and Horne agree the appeals process needs to be handled by a different department. “Like other programs the government administers, when there’s a dispute, the government doesn’t review that claim. Another body does,” Horne said.
Forty-five municipalities, including the township of Oro-Medonte, have passed a resolution requesting the province review the program. Oro-Medonte Mayor Harry Hughes said that the township was advocating that “livestock evaluators are competent; in other words, their opinions should be respected.”
If the government is concerned that those opinions are being swayed because livestock inspectors and farmers work and live closely together, then they aren’t acting like it, said McNiven.
“I used to work for crop insurance. If crop insurance suspected a fraud problem, they went forward with charges,” said McNiven. Relationships between farmers and inspectors are perfectly natural, most investigators are possessed of integrity, and the alternative isn’t much of an alternative, contended McNiven. Bylaw officers simply don’t have the necessary skills that inspectors do, he said.