By Connor Lynch
WALLACEBURG — An audit leaked to Farmers Forum and other Ontario agricultural news media has raised questions about the now-deposed board of the Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers (OPVG).
But the information and conclusions in the audit are questionable, said former chair of the OPVG, Francis Dobbelaar, who farms just northwest of Chatham-Kent at Wallaceburg.
The 2017 audit was labelled “confidential and medium security.”
Conducted by the internal audit division of the Treasury Board Secretariat of Ontario, the audit found “the OPVG’s governance, including controls over revenues and expenditures to be inadequate.”
It also concluded that the board’s “expenses are higher than other, comparable marketing boards,” and that “board of director expenses were four times higher . . . than comparable boards,” a claim that Dobbelaar refuted.
“It sounds like a pretty liberal interpretation of what was going on to me,” Dobbelaar told Farmers Forum. He added that until the Farm Products Marketing Commission calls for a more detailed and comprehensive forensic audit, “I don’t know how or where they got (their numbers).”
The audit only went out to 12 high-level public servants, including deputy ag minister Greg Meredith, and commission chair Jim Clark. As for why the audit was leaked, Dobbelaar said that the only advantage he could see to leaking it was to “divide the growers from the leadership in the grower community.”
The audit also claimed that in one instance of travel by an unnamed board member, whom Dobbelaar could not identify, a room was billed to an OPVG corporate credit card to the tune of $900 CAN per night, for an undisclosed number of nights.
The audit also claimed general manager John Mumford received a salary of almost $190,000, and that he worked only four days a week and also received a car allowance.
“He is paid equal to his peers in the industry,” said Dobbelaar, adding that “you’re never going to find somebody of John’s capabilities and work ethic. To say he worked four days a week is ludicrous.”
As for the hotel bill, though Dobbelaar said he couldn’t be sure who that was or if the audit’s claim was even accurate, he said it was common practice for the board to pick up the cheque to accommodate visiting experts from Europe or Australia, and vice versa for international boards.
Dobbelaar also said that the board’s operating costs were well below industry standards. “The cost of running the operation is generally done on a percentage of the value they represent. If you can be below 2 per cent, that’s great. We were around a tenth of one per cent.”
The audit also contained a couple of errors, including a claim that there were 12 directors of the OPVG, when in fact there were nine.
The vegetable growers’ board had been struggling with vegetable processors in Ontario since at least 2016. That summer, the Farm Products Marketing Commission announced intentions to strip the board of its negotiating powers, prompting outcry from growers.
Over the course of the next year-and-a-half, then-chair of the commission, Geri Kamenz, stepped down. The processors accused the growers of not negotiating in good faith, a claim flatly denied by Dobbelaar, who countered that the processors were the ones trying to undermine the negotiating process. At least two processors outright refused to meet with the growers after referring to the growers’ organization as a cartel, which Dobbelaar described as a “political ploy.
“They’re a bunch of corporations working together to undermine the collective bargaining of farmers,” Dobbelaar argued last year.
Provincial ag minister Jeff Leal eventually dissolved the growers’ board and appointed the new chair of the commission, Jim Clark, to negotiate contracts.