LONDON — Leeds County members of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture feel like they don’t get respect. They forwarded a resolution that was approved by the provincial delegates at the annual general meeting in 2021. But the OFA executive board declined to implement it.
In response to the board’s inaction, Leeds County members returned to the annual general meeting in 2022 with the same resolution but with a twist. The original resolution stated that if a farmer’s operation is not in the same county as where he lives, the farmer can choose his county of affiliation. That resolution passed in 2021. The twist in 2022 was that the resolution was explicitly worded to make it binding on the board. This resolution required a two-thirds majority vote as the newly-worded resolution was considered a bylaw change. It was soundly defeated by 80 per cent of the delegates.
Huron County delegate Neil Vincent observed that binding the board “goes against corporate law” and handicaps those “who are legally responsible for taking care of things.”
Leeds delegates, however, doubled-down with another resolution that would have compelled the board to carry out all resolutions passed at an AGM, save those exposing the corporation to “undue financial burden, reputational damage, and/or legal liability.” That resolution was also defeated by 80 per of provincial delegates.
Leeds delegate Eleanor Renaud was disappointed that on the one hand the provincial delegates voted in favour of a resolution but against making it binding. Many delegates left the annual meeting thinking that it doesn’t matter what the provincial delegates decide, the 18-member OFA executive controls the agenda.
It begs the question. Should the leaders of farm organizations be bound by membership resolutions?
“This is OFA. We are grassroots,” Renaud said. “Members speak, we expect, we pray that our leadership will do as the members want, that they will deal with our concerns and not just (say) ‘Nope, not today.’”
She pointed out that delegates to the AGM are elected on behalf of their constituent regions to bring their concerns forward. Renaud also said that organizations like the Rural Ontario Municipal Association and the Association of Municipalities — which she was part of for 20 years — do adhere to their AGM resolutions in general.
“It’s kind of disheartening when you bring a resolution forward, it passes, and then you just kind of find out that it didn’t get picked up,” observed Paul Buckley, of Kawartha Lakes-Algoma, a supporter of the initial resolution. Reflecting on what happened with the previous year’s resolution from Leeds, Buckley suggested the board needed to engage in a better “back and forth” with the regions after resolutions are passed at the AGM but not implemented.
“I think we need some process at the board where they are accountable to the members,” Bruce County delegate John Gillespie said.
“If we don’t have some authority to give at least some direction to the board, why do we approve the bylaws, why do we approve the financial statements, why are we here?” Gillespie said.
Eastern Ontario executive board director Jackie Kelly-Pemberton explained to Farmers Forum that changing the residency rule risked undermining the regional representation inherent to the OFA, which in turn could risk its not-for-profit status.
It is not uncommon for the OFA executive board to turn down a resolution passed at the annual provincial meeting. The OFA will study each resolution but sometimes concludes the resolution is not workable and county delegates might have lacked key information, Kelly-Pemberton said.
Speaking against the Leeds resolution, Rob Vandenhangel, of Huron County, pointed out that contradictory resolutions could be passed at the same AGM — he noted two on their agenda that very day — leaving the board in a quandary on which to follow in that case.
The proposed constraint would also make it impossible for the board to set a strategic direction, according to Ron Bonnett, of Algoma. “Having an organization run by the wishes of one meeting at one time in a year, would tie their hands to the point that they couldn’t act in the best interest of farmers all across Ontario,” Bonnet said.
Executive board member for Huron-Perth Ethan Wallace explained that the original Leeds resolution “appeared to be a good idea” but due diligence over six board meetings turned up “the severe consequences” of relaxing the residency rule. “If our (AGM) resolutions had been binding, we would all be feeling the consequences of that resolution passing today,” Wallace said.